Earlier this month, Singapore staged another iteration of a complex, interagency maritime security exercise. The exercise, which was observed by top defense officials, is yet another sign of the city-state’s wide-ranging efforts to manage a range of security challenges affecting it as well as the wider region.
In response to several challenges including terrorism, Singapore has been reinforcing its efforts abroad and at home to respond to them, including continuing to invest in capabilities, raising awareness, adjusting the way it conducts homeland defense and security operations, and using various means including drills to assess the responses of various agencies.
With respect to drills, one of the exercises in this regard has been Exercise Highcrest, a biennial exercise that is meant to test the ability of the Singapore Maritime Crisis Center (SMCC) and various agencies to plan and effectively manage a whole-of-government approach to simultaneous maritime security threats. This focus on coordination and comprehensiveness is in line with the concept called “Total Defense,” a concept first introduced in 1984 initially set out to include five areas: military defense; civil defense; economic defense; social defense; and psychological defense.
The last iteration of Exercise Highcrest, held back in October 2017, involved about 300 personnel from 14 national agencies. The exercise had tested the agencies on a range of maritime terrorism scenarios, including a chemical attack on board a ferry and infiltration by sea.
Earlier this month, Singapore held the latest iteration of Exercise Highcrest. Exercise Highcrest 2019 was held from October 16 to October 22, with the focus of the exercise being on dealing with threats such as terrorist infiltration by sea, attacks on vessels using small boats, and ferry hijacking.
According to Singapore’s defense ministry (MINDEF), Exercise Highcrest 2019 featured personnel from a range of agencies, including the Republic of Singapore Navy, the Singapore Police Force, the Singapore Civil Defense Force, the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority, Singapore Customs, and the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore.
As with the previous iteration, several top Singapore officials also witnessed Exercise Highcrest 2019. Per MINDEF, Senior Minister of State for Defense Heng Chee How and Senior Minister of State for Transport Lam Pin Min in particular visited and observed the exercise. The officials received a briefing at SMCC; sailed on the RSN Independence, one of the RSN’s Independence-class littoral mission vessels where they viewed how the RSM coordinated assets to respond to a ferry attack by diverting maritime traffic and intercepting a small boat; and saw the enforcement of enhanced security measures and coordination with ferry operators at Tanah Merah Ferry Terminal.
Exercises are only one pathway through which Singapore has been looking to address its security challenges, and Exercise Highcrest is only one example of this. Nonetheless, such interactions and their outcomes will continue to be important to watch in order to assess how Singapore is looking to manage a range of threats and how successful it has been.