Charting a Voyage of Discovery

Captain (CPT) Surya Bhat has always aspired to have a career that would challenge him to grow in a unique environment. He found all this and more in the Navy. He has since sailed the world, is continually developing as a leader and individual, and even navigates defence planning for the new frontiers of cyberspace and unmanned technology, amongst others.

What was your initial impression and/or understanding of a MINDEF/SAF career? What got you to join?

I had initially thought that a career in the SAF would entail a lot of action on the ground but realised that the ‘chiong sua’ required a lot of careful and critical thinking that may not be immediately apparent. 

I was keen to join the Navy because I wanted an exciting career that would challenge me to grow in a unique environment. I wanted to see more of the world and play a part in cultivating defence relations, especially since I was very interested in foreign affairs. The Navy offered me a chance to contribute to this.

Tell us more about your current role, day-to-day responsibilities and challenges.

I am currently a Planning Officer (Sea) in the Joint Ops Department. My day-to-day responsibilities include conducting operations planning for the SAF on cross-domain issues that require collaboration between the four Services and whole-of-government agencies. I am also developing future operating concepts for the SAF to ensure that we continue to have a robust defence system. 

Cross-domain collaborations often require a strong understanding of both policy-strategic imperatives as well as the tactical challenges on the ground. It takes effort and close attention to understand different viewpoints, as well as critical thinking to synthesise these into a cohesive whole. One must be able to see the big picture and translate that into the future operations of the SAF. It is easy to do things the way they have always been done but we must question our assumptions to ensure that the SAF is ready for tomorrow’s challenges.

How has a career in MINDEF/SAF changed your life and/or thinking?

It has made me more empathetic as an individual and a leader. The men and women who defend our everyday 24/7 are all unique individuals that bring their own motivations, aspirations and challenges to the table. Behind each person is a story that needs to be understood in order to lead effectively and create strong, cohesive teams. I have dedicated more effort and attention to understanding this and actively listening to each of them. This has made me realise that every viewpoint has value and needs to be taken seriously.

How is the MINDEF/SAF career a rewarding one?

On an individual level, each officer plays a part in the lives of their team members in countless ways, which are especially apparent when we sail together for extended periods of time. It is always rewarding to see growth in my team and to help to fulfil their aspirations. It is all the more rewarding because we play an active role in defending our everyday. Many sacrifices may go unseen to the public but we know that our efforts have made a difference in the lives of Singaporeans and in the continued peace of our nation – each small contribution adds up.

What is the most memorable moment in your career?

When my team and I participated in XPG21, the missile firing represented the climax of a long deployment and the culmination of months of hard work by everyone involved. The successful execution of such a complex firing represented how the teams within the ship as well as across different ships had managed to come together to push boundaries safely and effectively.

Transformation and transcending limits – how would you say MINDEF/SAF is transforming or has transformed and how does your role (and the roles of future personnel) play a part in it?

Personally, we all go through challenging times that force us to grow. For my team and I, that was the bilateral Exercise Pacific Griffin in 2021 (XPG21) with the US Navy which consisted of challenging multi-domain warfare exercises – in the air, on the sea and underwater. We pushed the limits in what we could accomplish as a team, with 24/7 warfare exercises for a prolonged period, as well as for the SAF in terms of pushing our operational boundaries. 

Organisationally, the SAF has grown from when I signed on. The most obvious change would be the inauguration of the Digital and Intelligence Service (DIS) which demonstrates how the SAF prepares itself for future conflict in emerging domains while ensuring the constant defence of Singapore. In the current age, threats are only becoming more complex and multi-faceted, from hybrid warfare to unmanned technology and cyberspace. The end-goal of the SAF to keep our nation safe remains unchanged but the challenges to doing so have increased. Each individual in the SAF plays a key role in developing themselves to learn quickly and adopt a flexible mindset to enable an outsized impact in the future.

What is the most memorable moment in your career?

Something I have taken away from my career thus far is that we cannot take commitment to defence for granted. Our continued peace and prosperity today cannot buy us security forever. An important element is the determination and sacrifice of Singaporeans to keep our nation safe. We must continue to foster this commitment and if MINDEF/SAF needs to change to ensure this, then we must.

2015 SAF Merit Scholarship Recipient
Bachelor of Law, University College London
Planning Officer (Sea), Joint Ops Department

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