Want to know more about our story? Here's how the evolution from a three-man laboratory to Singapore's foremost applied R&D organisation came about.
Take a step back in time with us to 1972 when Dr Goh Keng Swee, then Minister for Defence, foresaw that future warfare would enter the realm of science and technology. Three engineers were handpicked by Dr Goh to form the Electronics Test Centre (ETC).
Its task - to build up secret-edge R&D capabilities for Singapore in key areas such as electronic warfare, guided systems and cryptography, which remain our core competencies till today.
With the progressive expansion of its R&D scope, the ETC was renamed the Defence Science Organisation in 1977.
In 1997, the Defence Science Organisation was incorporated as a not-for-profit company limited by guarantee and became known as DSO National Laboratories. The corporatisation aimed to embrace best commercial practices to recruit and retain talented people, and set new levels of service for its customers.
Today, many of the SAF's mission-critical systems bear the invisible imprint of our work. We take pride in our ability to fuse our multi-disciplinary expertise into leading-edge technologies and systems that cannot be commercially procured.
Where applicable, DSO also extends our defence R&D capabilities to contribute to homeland security.
Click here to download DSO's 30th Anniversary Commemorative Book!
A Tribute to Dr Goh Keng Swee
A tribute to Dr Goh Keng Swee, penned by Mr Quek Gim Pew, Chief Executive Officer, DSO National Laboratories on behalf of DSO, on Tuesday, 18 May 2010.
DSO National Laboratories had its beginnings in the far-reaching and searching mind of a great Singaporean - Dr Goh Keng Swee.
"Dr Goh" - as he is affectionately known - is the architect, engineer and hand-craftsman of modern Singapore.
With an iron hand and stern gaze, an impish humour and a deep concern for his fellow men, he transformed the ageing, abandoned island-fortress which was Singapore of the 1960s, into a gleaming, ultra-modern capital of finance, commerce and communications.
The aching, third-world poverty which was Singapore three decades ago, is now a steel-sheathed, sky-rocketed, technology-driven metropolis.
The schemes and plans which made this transformation possible - the Economic Development Board, Port of Singapore Authority, Jurong Town Corporation, Housing and Development Board, Ministry of Education, and Central Provident Fund - were inventions cast in Dr Goh's extraordinary mind. If you add more of Dr Goh's tinkering - the Singapore Symphony Orchestra, the Jurong Bird Park, the Zoological Gardens and Sentosa - you can appreciate the diversity of his interests.
For he delved not only in the high world of economics and finance, but in art, culture and the appreciation of nature.
Dr Goh had a deep commitment to improving the welfare and lives of all Singaporeans. Every man and woman, he felt, needed to earn well, be educated, sleep soundly under a solid roof, listen to music and enjoy the greenery of nature.
He took each of these concerns to heart, reading voraciously, pondering over solutions and summoning experts. Solutions would take shape, crafted in the bold, broad strokes of a master.
Satisfied, he would place a phone call.
For he had a special skill; his ability to single out the individual men and women who could translate his vision from his mental workshop bench, into realisation in the Singapore landscape.
Each young officer who received his phone call, was baptised into a unique school for leaders and nation-builders. They emerged inspired, determined and truly touched by his blend of wisdom, commitment and pluck. To this day, they regard him with a mixture of awe and fondness, remembering each encounter with "Dr Goh" in an archive of anecdotes, both playful and profound.
Security and Defence
Dr Goh also felt that human life and well-being, economic confidence and national courage, were built on a nation's ability to provide security and defence for all its people.
Every person needs to feel safe and secure. Having lived through the Second World War, he and his generation knew this from painful, personal experience.
He believed that nations would be unjustly treated if they possessed no military force. In this world, many disputes amongst nations are settled by a call to arms and national interests apportioned by victory in battle.
He predicted that future outcomes would hang on the capability of an armed force - skilfully led, well-armed and equipped with the most advanced technology of the day.
Dr Goh was determined that Singapore would have such an armed force.
Starting from a scratch team of volunteer militia, Dr Goh built an Army, Navy and Air Force, capable of achieving national security and deterring a wide range of threats.
This was the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF).
Science and Technology
Though diminutive in size, the SAF packs a punch.
This is due to Dr Goh's silent, skilful and ceaseless application of defence science and technology.
Dr Goh had, despite his economist credentials, an aptitude for defence science. He had a willingness to tinker with ideas and concepts. He was blessed with a lively, almost child-like curiosity, and romped through reams of scientific journals in the course of his day.
Scientists would be called and quizzed on subjects, some obscure, others at the frontiers of science. They would be given one day to do the research and return a one-page explanation in plain English.
This made Dr Goh an extraordinary initiator of science.
The Technology Edge
Dr Goh believed that in the 21st century, warfare would enter the realm of science and technology.
Victory in battle would go to those who mastered this brave new frontier of lasers, smart bombs, battlefield sensors, remotely piloted vehicles and electronic wizardry.
To a small country like Singapore, the application of science and technology was even more critical.
The country suffered from a small space and tiny population. Only the technology edge could overcome these natural constraints.
In a new century, he predicted, victory in war would come not from parade grounds and barracks, but in the laboratories of defence scientists.
In 1971, he called together a team of newly graduated, fresh-faced engineers, seized upon their return from scholarships and First Class Honours from the world's best universities. Called the Electronic Warfare (EW) Study Group, they were to plot an approach towards secret-edge technology. They were bundled into isolation, working in secrecy.
This was Project Magpie.
Needing a cover story, they called themselves "ETC" - Electronics Test Centre. They brought in a young university lecturer called Dr Tay Eng Soon to lead their research.
It was a small, groping and humble start. But it was to lay the foundations for defence science in Singapore: developing the skills of its engineers, acquiring the tools and setting up laboratories.
ETC was the vital first step in the creation of a new generation of defence R&D professionals and an ideal environment for R&D. Three decades later, Project Magpie would be known as DSO National Laboratories.
Electronics Test Centre
It was 1972 that three young men - Dr Tay Eng Soon, Benny Chan and Toh Kim Huat, started work on the second floor of a converted detention centre on Onraet Road. They were joined, in the course of the year, by "returned scholars" - outstanding young graduates such as Su Guaning, Foo Say Wei and Tham Choon Tat, who had returned from scholarships abroad.
Dr Tay immersed his young researchers in laboratory and field work, and trained them to build simple equipment - and then more complex systems.
By 1976, the original group of three had grown to 20, and had moved to larger premises on Marina Hill. In 1977, they were renamed Defence Science Organisation, or DSO. The entry of an elite group of engineers who had built Singapore's first missile gun boat, known as the Systems Integration and Management Team, doubled the overall staff size to 50.
Defence Science Organisation
In 1980, the head of DSO, Dr Tay Eng Soon, went on to a political career.
Philip Yeo, Dr Goh Keng Swee's protégé, technology buff and Permanent Secretary of MINDEF, assumed the helm at DSO as Chairman of the Executive Committee, the EXCO.
Under Philip Yeo's unique brand of "submarine" management, together with Tham Choon Tat, Su Guaning and Ho Ching, DSO became steadily more focused and capable.
In 1983, led by former Chief Defence Scientist, Professor Lui Pao Chuen, MINDEF embarked on an audacious drive towards technical excellence in the SAF. As the major benefactor of all pro-technology MINDEF schemes, DSO grew rapidly in capability and numbers.
During this period, DSO began to recruit engineering students from the university, shedding some of its iron-clad secrecy to do so. The best and brightest students were identified and signed up, leading to DSO expanding in numbers to 300, then 500 and upwards towards its present 1,500 strength.
The growth in DSO was not solely quantitative.
The quality of its recruits, and the slow, steady growth of its know-how and R&D skills, began to show in the mid '80s. By 1985, DSO had led major projects for MINDEF and the SAF, and developed benchmarked credibility and technological capability in each of its chosen fields. The quality of DSO's technology began to appear in the string of Defence Technology Prizes which DSO began to garner in the next decade.
Defence Technology Group
In 1986, MINDEF formed the Defence Technology Group (DTG). This united the technology and logistics groups in MINDEF, and established DSO as the centre of R&D for the SAF.
The scientists and engineers in DSO were recognised and professionalised in a series of restructuring exercises which evolved DSO from a MINDEF agency to a national R&D laboratory. In the later part of the 1980s, DSO outgrew its facilities on Marina Hill, and dispersed its laboratories and staff to several locations around Singapore.
And it was at this time that SAF began to display, in its officer cadre, an awareness and appreciation for technology. SAF officers began to work closely with DTG to bring the SAF into the technology age, harnessing the advances of defence science into the SAF's equipment, weaponry and organisation.
In 1989, DSO moved into a brand-new headquarters in Science Park - a move which required its role and importance to be publicly revealed for the first time.
Gaining More Autonomy
It was the Gulf War in 1991 which was to focus Cabinet attention on DSO and spark its exponential growth. Through the 1990s, as DSO's numbers approached one thousand, DSO expanded to open the re-developed Marina Hill Complex in 1998.
And throughout the 1990s, DSO continued to grow in size and capability, nurtured by technology-driven and enlightened leadership at all levels of MINDEF, the SAF and in the higher reaches of the Cabinet.
The DSO mission was becoming increasingly urgent, and appreciated in the highest levels of national, political and military leadership.
Throughout the 1990s, DSO's facilities, manpower and resources were approaching state-of-the-art.
With these basic issues resolved, DSO turned its attention to another mission: to become, simply stated, "the best environment for applied R&D."
The solution lay in what the then Director, Su Guaning, was to refer to as a "black box" status.
Within a strong and secure shell, DSO should be an organisation with operational and financial independence, and freedom - the freedom to recruit the best and brightest researchers, to pursue the best science, and to seek friends and collaborations with other defence scientists around the world.
In 1991, DSO was one of the first MINDEF agencies to be granted "Executive Agency" status, giving it partial financial and operational autonomy - the first move out of MINDEF and the first step into the role of national research laboratory.
DSO National Laboratories
By 1997, DSO received a charter as DSO National Laboratories, a not-for-profit corporation.
From this time, and particularly in the year 2000 with the establishment of its own personnel scheme, DSO finally attained the autonomy that it long aspired for.
It was a signal that DSO had finally earned the full respect and confidence of the MINDEF and the SAF, who regarded DSO as a full partner in the creation of the technology edge.
DSO 2002 - a Tribute to Dr Goh Keng Swee
It has been 30 years since Dr Goh called the EW Study Group together and ETC was founded. Since then, Dr Goh's far-sighted vision of a defence science laboratory, creating the technology edge for the SAF, has been realised.
The Singaporean-grown, thousand-strong DSO National Laboratories has given reality and immortality, to Dr Goh's vision.
It is a one hundred per cent Singaporean success - planned, powered, and implemented by a young generation of engineers who gave their heart, souls and powerful minds to the defence of their nation.
Because of these pioneers, Singapore's defence has the technology edge.
This is the story of DSO National Laboratories.
It is also a tribute to Dr Goh Keng Swee.