Serving every Bond is a Q & DSO is doing just that for S’pore


For the uninitiated, this is Q.

This latest incarnation of Q is played by Ben Whishaw and, long story short, he’s the Quartermaster (thus Q) and the head of research and development division of the fictional British Secret Service. This makes him the go-to guy whenever James Bond requires tech and weaponry assistance.

Now, hold on to this thought, we are getting there.

If Singapore were James Bond, then home-grown DSO National Laboratories (DSO) is that Q.

DSO technology’s made the difference for Singapore over the past 50 years. This must continue, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at the DSO50 Jubilee Dinner this previous Friday (Oct 14).

“Many defence technologies were available commercially, even off-the-shelf,” recalled PM Lee of the post-independence years before the DSO’s 1972 founding.

“But what we could buy, so could others.”

“Often, we preferred not to buy so as to keep our secrets secret,” he added. “The moment the SAF revealed what it had, potential adversaries would start searching for ways to defeat it, and we would lose the important element of surprise.”

“And this made it important for us to develop our own secret-edge technologies ourselves indigenously.”

A robust arsenal

So, DSO: all those 1,500 experts there make what, ah?

“Most of DSO’s projects are hush-hush, or as the engineers say, ‘under the radar’,” continued PM Lee.

“But I have DSO’s permission to mention just a few projects, briefly and vaguely, tonight.”

These “just a few” secret projects “only” range from guided missiles, cryptography, chemical bio-defense and satellite imaging.

In other words, there’s a very large suite of DSO solutions out here right now protecting Singapore.  

“In the 1980s, DSO worked with the Navy to develop and operationalise electronic warfare capabilities for our Missile Gun Boats,” began PM Lee.

“And this gave our ships a tactical advantage, to be able to detect and identify hostile combatants and incoming missiles.”

Meanwhile, DSO developed the other side of the equation, making better guided weapons.

“One of its early forays into precision-guided weapons was to develop a television-guided bomb,” said PM Lee.

“I remember the tremendous pride and satisfaction we all felt when the project team showed us the telemetry video of the first live test, as the bomb flew straight and true to penetrate the target.”

Pivoting to meet new needs  

DSO, also, makes that difference work because it pivots whenever there’s the need. And whenever it can.

Case in point: When minicomputers and microcomputers came on the scene, DSO developed new cryptography techniques, securing Singapore’s secrets against eavesdroppers.

Then, in the early days of the pandemic, DSO quickly developed PCR test kits for Singapore. These helped rapidly identify and isolate Covid-positive cases, limiting the virus’s spread.

“It freed us from worrying about obtaining sufficient testing capabilities in our fight against the virus, and helped to save many lives,” said PM Lee.

This kit stems from DSO’s deep chemical-bio-defense capabilities. The United Nations, also, has accredited DSO as an Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) Designated Laboratory, showing that it can competently, impartially and unambiguously verify for chemical weapons.

A DSO-developed satellite, NeuSAR, also orbits the Earth now, providing detailed image capturing from space for disaster monitoring and maritime security.

“DSO’s work in satellite development has also accelerated the growth of our local space industry,” said PM Lee.

“For example, NeuSAR was developed with support from EDB, and will be commercialised by ST Engineering, and we now have over 50 local and international space companies in Singapore, employing over 1,800 professionals.”

A secret shield

But the need for national defense never changes.

In fact, the competition for science and technology talent will intensify over time.

Here, DSO lets scientists and engineers stretch their abilities and develop their talents.

“DSO must be able to interest, inspire, and induct a continuing flow of high-quality people,” said PM Lee of how the DSO is a fulfilling organisation for one’s career.

“Much of what you do will be highly classified, and kept out of the public eye,” the Prime Minister added.

“But if you have done something outstanding at DSO, we will make sure that you know it, and that your achievement is properly recognised.”

“Secretly if necessary.”

Cover image credit: Sony Pictures