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Early-stage Defense Diplomacy: Leveraging U.S.- Singapore Startup Ecosystems

Issues & Insights Vol. 21 SR4, pp. 16 – 23

About this Volume

Authors of this volume participated in the inaugural U.S.- Singapore Next-Generation Leaders Initiative, sponsored by the U.S. Department of State, through the U.S. Embassy Singapore. With backgrounds from academia, public policy, civil society and industry, the cohort brings rich insights on the past, present, and future of the U.S.-Singapore relationship. Between September 2020 and August 2021, cohort members engaged with senior experts and practitioners as they developed research papers addressing various aspects of the bilateral relationship.

The statements made and views expressed are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of their respective organizations and affiliations. Pacific Forum’s publications do not necessarily reflect the opinions of its staff, donors and sponsors.


Defense technology cooperation is a central pillar in the Singapore-U.S. security relationship. For 55 years, government- led collaboration initiatives fueled technological superiority that forms the core of both countries’ military edge. But the private sector, driven by capital markets and an exponential increase in the power of venture capital, is reshaping how the most advanced technologies are developed. Bilateral defense technology cooperation must evolve with the times and embrace this new frontier of technology. Singapore and the United States can leverage a whole-of-society approach to channel startups as a new source of defense technology cooperation and defense diplomacy connections.

This paper examines the dynamics which make startup outreach an essential facet of defense technology competitiveness, analyzes both countries’ related core competencies, and identifies areas of mutual benefit. It considers the perspective of startup entrepreneurs for Singapore and the United States to better create systems that are responsive to startup ventures. Finally, this paper prescribes specific recommendations for Singapore and the United States to build on the past 55 years and take defense technology cooperation to the next level.

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Matthew Merighi is the Northeast Regional Director for the National Security Innovation Network, a program office in the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD). In his role, Matthew builds relationships in New England between DoD entities, universities, and startups to accelerate innovation. A graduate of Georgetown University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, Matthew began his career working as a civilian for the U.S. Air Force’s international office. He has since worked in academia at the Fletcher School and co-founded two startups. A native of southern New Jersey, Matthew currently resides outside of Boston.

Photo: Staffer from the Office of Naval Research (ONR), explains project BlueShark to a commissioned officer from the Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory. Project BlueShark is an ONR effort to create a high-tech, futuristic environment to demonstrate what operational work environments might look like and what emerging innovative technologies might provide in the next decade. Matt’s paper argues for the need to engage U.S. and Singaporean startup communities for these types of endeavors. Source: U.S. Navy photo by John F. Williams/Released