Singapore’s Navy Cruises Toward Blue-Water Force
By WENDELL MINNICK, TAIPEI
Singapore’s Navy has undergone dramatic upgrades over the past 10 years with the addition of destroyers, submarines, unmanned systems and a new command-and-control system, moving ever closer toward developing a blue-water naval force.
The May 5 commissioning of the 3,200-ton RSS Formidable, the first of six Formidable-class frigates that will join the Republic of Singapore Navy within the next two years, was the latest milestone in that drive.
The new ships will allow Singapore’s Navy to project force farther from home.
Sam Bateman, senior fellow and adviser at the Institute of Defence and Strategic Studies, Singapore, said the RSN is about to acquire a “genuine blue-water capability that will enable it to participate fully in joint naval operations with Singapore’s allies for purposes such as sea lanes of communication protection and peacekeeping, e.g. as part of the U.S. Navy’s ‘1,000-ship navy.’
“In the past, Singapore’s participation in major naval operations has been restricted to coastal waters by the limited range and seakeeping qualities of its missile corvettes, the largest surface combatants that Singapore has had in the past,” he said.
Col. Benedict Lim, director of public affairs for the Ministry of National Defense, points out that the Navy has had a long relationship with neighboring countries and the new frigates will add to regional security.
“For example, exercises under the Five Power Defence Ar-rangements and Western Pacific Navy Symposium have enabled participating navies with different background, training systems and working languages to operate together at sea,” he said. “These interactions, together with other collaborations such as the Malacca Strait Patrol, contribute to strengthening maritime security in the region.”
Bateman contends that the new ships are “by far the most advanced surface combatants in Southeast Asia. They constitute a real capability edge for the Singapore Navy over other regional navies.
“While they have an effective point defense air-to-air warfare capability, their main attributes lie in anti-surface and anti-submarine warfare,” he said. “The organic helicopter will provide an important extension of the ship’s own capabilities, particularly for surveillance, over-the-horizon targeting and anti-submarine warfare.”
In 1995, Singapore embarked on a submarine training program conducted by the Royal Swedish Navy and procured four Challenger-class (Sjoorman-class) attack submarines.
The submarines — the first in Singapore’s history — were designed for cold Baltic waters, not warm tropical seas, so Singapore’s Defence Science and Technology Agency (DSTA) had to compensate.
“As the submarines were originally designed to operate in Nordic waters, we put them through a tropicalization program to enable them to operate effectively in tropical waters,” said Yeo Peng Hian, director of naval systems at DSTA.
“With the support of Kockums AB, Thales Underwater and ST Engineering, DSTA, in collaboration with the RSN, successfully undertook the combat systems upgrade for the submarines,” Yeo said. “The submarines now possess a state-of-the-art sonar suite, a modern command-and-control and navigational system, and a new weapon control system.”
In 2005, Singapore ordered two Västergötland-class submarines from Kockums of Sweden.
“We will stand to benefit from synergies in crew training and logistics support as the Västergötland-class submarines are also of Swedish origin,” Lim said. “The two submarines will be upgraded and converted for operations in tropical waters before entering service at the end of the decade.”
DSTA is managing the acquisition of the Västergötland-class submarines.
Singapore’s Navy is experimenting with a variety of unmanned systems, including unmanned aerial vehicles and unmanned surface vehicles (USVs) for “maritime surveillance, interception and force protection, while Autonomous Underwater Vehicles can further expand the RSN’s capabilities in the underwater dimension,” said Lim.
“The RSN successfully employed the Protector USV [in 2005] for force protection when we deployed an LST [Endurance-class landing dock ship] to the Arabian Gulf in support of the multinational reconstruction effort in Iraq,” he said.
The Protector is a 30-foot-long, stealthy inflatable boat developed by Israel-based Rafael. Armed with surveillance equipment and the Typhoon close-in weapon system, it can approach suspicious craft night or day.
The IKC2 Network
The Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) are being integrated into a sophisticated command-and-control system. The Integrated Knowledge-based Command and Control (IKC2) system “harnesses the power of intelligent networking as a force multiplier,” Lim said.
“DSTA embarked on several in-house C2 development programs on a wide variety of SAF platforms since the 1990s,” Yeo said. “In the 2000s, DSTA continued to reuse our set of well-tested software components for programs such as the C2 systems for the submarines, frigates and other maritime surveillance systems.
“Our locally developed CMS [combat management system] on board the frigates not only integrates the sensors and the weapon systems, but also incorporates data links and networks for force-level capabilities and advanced visualization for situation awareness,” he said.
“The RSN is transforming to become an integral part of the larger SAF-wide IKC2 network, one in which the SAF will work seamlessly as one,” Lim added.