REPUBLIC OF SINGAPORE NAVY
By George Kaplan
of the Republic of Singapore (RSN) is one of South East Asia's most
interesting and dynamic. From humble beginnings following independence
in 1963, the RSN has grown to a position of control over one of the
world's most important waterways. Today, the RSN is capable of exerting
'Sea Control' over their area of immediate interest and sea denial much
further away. With the introduction into Singaporean service of four
ex-Swedish Navy submarines and the addition of new stealth frigates
on order from France the RSN will soon be in a position to exert 'Sea
Dominance' on, over and under the waters surrounding the Singapore Strait.
Such is the mix of capabilities that the RSN is integrating that, with
the exception of the Japanese Maritime Self Defence Force with their
Aegis destroyers and fleets of modern destroyers and submarines, and
the overwhelming firepower of the United States Navy, the RSN is on
track to become the most powerful navy in the region. The RSN of
Today's RSN is based around a core of missile armed fast patrol boats.
These vessels are ideal for operations in and around the intensely crowded
littoral waters of the Singapore and Malacca Straits. Small, fast and
easily able to disappear amongst the numerous islands, ferries, fishing
boats and merchant ships that ply these waters, they are also possessed
of potency far outweighing their size. The largest and most capable
of Singapore's fleet are the six Victory class corvettes. Displacing
600 tonnes, they are armed with up to eight Harpoon anti-ship missiles,
each with range of 130kms and more than capable of seriously damaging
a frigate-sized opponent. A recent upgrade to these corvettes has seen
a substantial improvement in their self-defence capabilities, with the
addition twin vertical launch octuple Barak surface to air missile launchers
to augment the single 76-mm dual-purpose Super Raid gun and passive
The Israeli Barak is designed to be a relatively low-cost point defence
missile system to protect ships against both manned aircraft and anti-ship
missiles and consequently has a quick reaction time, typically 3 seconds
including 0.6 seconds to turn over. The fire-control system is based
upon the Elta EL/M-2221GM I/J- and K-band (X-Ka band) monopulse coherent
tracking and illumination radar which is supplemented, on the right-hand
side, by a Rafael thermal imager. It features a dish antenna with an
elevation of -25 to +85º. Search, acquisition and tracking may be conducted
in either I/J (8 to 20 GHz) or K (20 to 40 GHz) bands and it can track
the target or targets while controlling two missiles. The system may
also be used for controlling guns, possibly with the assistance of a
separate ballistic computer. Upon acquisition of the target/targets
by the ship's search radar, the fire-control radar designates the targets.
Wolf class missile (Harpoon & Gabriel ASMs) armed attack boat.
Also 57mm rapid fire gun plus Simbad twin launcher for Mistral
homing AS missiles.
system automatically calculates the level of threat from each target,
allocates a missile or missiles and automatically launches them. In
the anti-ship missile role the Barak leaves the launcher and is turned
over towards the target by the thrust vector control system at the base
of the missile which is automatically discarded, presumably by explosive
bolts, upon completion of launch. The missile is acquired and controlled
by the fire-control radar which then guides it towards the target. The
missile is capable of engaging targets 2 m above the sea and can manoeuvre
at 25 g. It travels at Mach 2 and has a range of 12kms.
The Victory class are also fitted with two triple 324mm ASW (Anti-Submarine
Warfare) torpedo tubes for six Italian Whitehead A 244s anti-submarine
active/passive homing torpedos with a range of 7kms.
Backing up the Victory class are six 260 tonne Sea Wolf Harpoon/Gabriel
I armed missile attack craft, and 12 500 tonne Fearless patrol craft,
half of which are fitted out for ASW operations. The Sea Wolf are armed
with four Harpoon ASMs and four Israeli Gabriel I ASMs with a range
of 20km at Mach .7 and guided by either optical or radar guidance (semi-active
homing). The Sea Wolf and fearless are also fitted with the Matra Simbad
twin launcher for Mistral IR anti-aircraft missiles, which have a range
The Fearless class are fitted with a 76mm super rapid gun which can
fire 120 rpm to 16kms. As mentioned, half of the class are also fitted
for ASW operations and employ a Thomson Sintra TSM 2362 Gudgeon hull-mounted
active attack medium frequency sonar. One of the ships is also fitted
with a towed sonar array. The ASW ships have two triple 324mm torpedo
tubes for the Italian Whitehead A244s active/passive torpedo.
Operating close to their bases, and under friendly air cover, these
vessels could use Singapore's crowded waters to full advantage, mingling
with neutral traffic and darting out to deliver missile attacks against
their targets or to search and destroy transiting submarines. They would
have the 'Home Ground' advantage of airborne and shore based radar surveillance.
Realistic exercises that emphasise these tactics regularly feature in
the RSN's training schedule.
Taken together with the Republic's Grumman E-2 Hawkeye AEW&C (Airborne
Early Warning & Control) aircraft, and A-4 Skyhawk and F-16 Falcon attack
aircraft, these surface assets have the capability to render the waters
in and surrounding the Singapore Strait extremely dangerous to opponents.
These however are not the only forces that an aggressive maritime force
would have to deal with, for further danger lurks beneath the waves.
Singapore took the decision to acquire a submarine force in the early
1990's, with the acquisition announced in 1995 of the first one, then
four submarines of the Sjoormen class. All had seen service with the
Royal Swedish Navy in the shallow and cold waters of the Baltic. These
submarines, 25 years old at the time, were to be decommissioned as part
of reductions in the Swedish submarine service. Singapore evaluated
them and found them to be excellent entry level technology into submarine
operations. Their design, optimised for shallow water operations in
the Baltic, is ideally suited for operations in the waters of the Singapore
Strait and the surrounding region. However, the water temperature is
much higher in the tropics meaning more corrosion and a loss of underwater
endurance due to battery overheating.
Following extensive reconditioning, which involved the replacement of
most of the submarines pipping, wiring and the fitting of air conditioning,
two of the four boats are now in operation in Singapore, with the remaining
two completing crew-training duties in the Baltic and due to arrive
in Singapore in 2003. The submarines are armed with four 533mm bow tubes
and carry up to 10 FFV 613 anti-surface wire guided passive homing torpedos
with a range of 15kms at 45kts using a 250kg warhead. The subs also
have two 400mm torpedo tubes for four FFV Type 431 anti-submarine active/passive
wire guided torpedoes with a range of 20kms at 25kts and using a 45kg
shaped charge warhead, or an equivalent war load of mines. The four
boats are named CHALLENGER, CENTURION, CONQUEROR and CHIEFTAIN are a
potent weapon in the republic's maritime arsenal. Despite their age,
they are quiet, manoeuvrable and will be extraordinarily hard to detect
in the notoriously difficult anti-submarine environment of the tropics,
where shallow water, noisy acoustic environment, varying salinity and
complex temperature gradients combine to work to the submarine's advantage.
Even the most capable anti-submarine force will struggle to locate the
Challenger class subs in these difficult waters.
The RSN is aware that a mining campaign conducted in the waters of the
Singapore and Malacca Straits could have a devastating impact on both
the economy of the island state, and on the RSN's movements. To this
end they have commissioned four Swedish designed Landsort class minehunters.
The first, BEDOK (which the class was also named), was built in Sweden
with the last three being built in Singapore. While not sufficient to
keep the entire Singapore Strait clear of mines, they are sufficient
to ensure RSN access to their operating areas. The RSN has rightly concluded
that any indiscriminate mining campaign in the Strait's would endanger
the traffic of so many nations that an international anti-mining operation
would commence to sweep the waters clean and ensure continued access
The mine hunter force is equipped to deal with the most modern mines,
being equipped with high definition sonars, remotely operated mine disposal
vehicles, and facilities to support teams of divers. The Bedok class
is also fitted to lay mines if necessary.
To support Singapore's claims to some of the outlying islands, the RSN
operates an amphibious force comprising one ex-Royal Navy Landing Ship
Logistic and four Endurance class LST (Landing Ship Tank). Commissioned
into RSN service as PERSEVERANCE in 1994 the former Falklands War veteran
SIR LANCELOT can lift a maximum of 560 troops and 16 MBTs (Main Battle
Tanks), and has two platforms for operating helicopters. While PERSEVERANCE
can deliver her cargo by beaching and unloading via bow doors, this
is rarely carried out in practice.
The four Endurance class LST's were designed and built in Singapore,
and provide a useful capability with each capable of lifting 350 troops,
18 MBT's and 20 other vehicles. These can be delivered through four
small landing craft carried in davits, four larger landing craft in
the ship's well dock or via the two embarked Puma helicopters. Bow and
stern doors are also fitted which allows a mate up with the RSN's larger
landing craft for transport of vehicles to the shore. It has a well
dock which can flood down to enable landing craft to drive in and out
of the ship. The acquisition of these four vessels gives the RSN the
capability to land and support troops on any of the numerous islands
which surround Singapore's territorial waters, or which control the
entrance to the Singapore Strait. In fact one of the Endurance class
completed the RSN's first circumnavigation of the globe, in 2000. However,
one must really question why a small island nation needs four very large
amphibious assault ships at all when helicopters can transport troops
around its territory with ease? Some have speculated that the ships
are there to protect Singaporean interests either up the Malay peninsular
or further from home.
All in all, the RSN has developed into a capable navy, emerging from
its brown-water status to a green-water force, capable of controlling
its direct area of operational interest, which just happens to be one
of the most busy and influential waterways in the world. In the years
to come, the RSN will extend this capability.
The RSN of Tomorrow
For many years it has been apparent that the RSN was seeking a larger
more capable vessel to supplement their current fleet of attack craft
and corvettes. Most observers expected a larger OPV/corvette design
of between 1000 and 1500 tonnes, probably incorporating some measure
of stealth technology. In fact Singapore stunned the naval world with
the announcement that it would buy six La Fayette-derived stealth frigates
generated drawing of Delta class frigate with better signature reduction
measures than its basic French La Fayette design.
more than 3200 tonnes, the Singaporean, or Delta version of the popular
frigates will be armed with a OTO Melera 76-mm super rapid gun, and
a mix of anti-aircraft and anti-ship missiles. While exact armaments
are still uncertain, it is known that they will be armed with the European
anti-aircraft ASTER missile system. The first ship of this class will
be completed in France and arrive in Singapore in 2005, while ships
2 and 3 will commence construction at the same time in Singapore. All
are scheduled to be in service by 2009.
With the capability to operate a medium sized helicopter for over the
horizon surveillance and targeting, far superior sea keeping capabilities
than their predecessors and a reduced IR, acoustic and electronic signature,
the six as yet unnamed frigates will dramatically bolster the Republic's
Recent announcements of the features of the six frigates reveals that
the 110 metre frigates differ in a number of ways from the base line
La Fayette class, as operated by France, Taiwan and Saudi Arabia.
The hull design is in most respects similar to the current La Fayette
hull design, but the superstructure is substantially different. The
superstructure has been reduced and incorporates further shaping to
reduce the radar signature of the ship, relative to the baseline ships.
Part of the change will have been driven by the RSN's choice of weapons
and sensors, and others by growing experience in the art of radar reduction.
The ships will be highly automated and have a crew of only 60. An as
yet the Singaporeans have not specified an anti-ship missile but may
possibly retain Harpoon to maintain commonality with the rest of the
fleet. To support over the horizon and terminal guidance for the anti-ship
missiles, the frigates will be equipped to operate a Seahawk/NH-90 sized
helicopter. Depending on its fit out, this helicopter could also be
capable of deploying anti-submarine sensors and weapons, in concert
with the frigates own low-frequency towed sonar array.
The ships will also be fitted with a comprehensive combat system and
secure communications to enable it to coordinate the operations of the
RSN's missile corvettes and fast attack craft.
Much of the design of the frigate suggests that it may also be destined
for "out of area" operations, away from the Singapore and Malacca Straits.
In particular the fitting of a EDO low frequency towed sonar array,
which would be difficult to operate in the shallow waters of the Strait,
but which would be useful for supporting the escort of other ships in
the open ocean.
Far surpassing Malaysia's Lekiu frigates, and emphasising the obsolescence
of much of the Indonesian, Philippines and Thai navies, it will be interesting
to see what responses the other ASEAN navies will announce to try and
match the RSN's new frigates. A mini-arms race may develop, as each
tries to counter the others capabilities.
The operations of the Challenger class submarines have brought home
the many capabilities that an efficient submarine force can offer. Covert
surveillance, anti-shipping strikes, special operations and mine-laying
operations are just a few of the capabilities available to the RSN,
despite the limitations of the boats due to their age.
The Challenger class are all more than 25 years old, and it has always
been Singaporean policy that these boats were to develop the required
submarine operations expertise before selecting a modern class of submarines
to replace them. The most likely candidates are the German U 212 class,
the New Viking class of submarines being designed for the Swedish and
Norwegian navies, and the French/Spanish Scorpene class. All are small,
manoeuvrable and fast for conventional submarines. Fitted with a modern
command and control systems, and state of the art sensors and weapons,
they would be potent additions to the RSN's arsenal. While use of the
Challenger class submarines may provide the Swedes with a small lead
in the choice of a new submarine, the French have considerable expertise
in foreign sales, and it must not be forgotten that more German submarines
have been built and operated by more navies worldwide than any other
A timeframe for the selection and construction of the new submarines
has not been announced however, the age of the Challenger class will
to some extent force the RSN's hand. Most likely an announcement of
the search for a replacement will be made within the next 12 months,
and a decision within two years after that, by which time the youngest
of the Challenger class will be approaching 30 years in service.
The acquisition of the Challenger class, and the expected announcement
of their replacements has already stirred other South East Asian states
to consider the acquisition of submarine arms (Thailand), or the revitalisation
of their currently moribund sub forces (Indonesia), to match the Singaporean
capability. Malaysia has already announced the purchase of two of the
French/Spanish Scorpene class submarines (see THE NAVY Vol 64, No.4,
The RSN is the most capable navy in South East Asia. Its potent
mix of missile corvettes and submarines, in concert with the surveillance
and strike aircraft of the RSAF, can control the waters surrounding
Singapore, and allow it to exert control over the length of the Singapore
Strait, one of the world's most vital waterways, and further a field.
The addition of the six stealth frigates, and the anticipated replacements
for the Challenger class submarines, will allow the RSN to dominate
the waters of its direct interest, and to project that power into surrounding
The Delta class frigates will also provide the RSN with the capability
to deploy naval power further from home waters, allowing participation
in United Nations sanctioned maritime operations such as the Multi-National
Interception Force enforcing sanctions against Iraq.
One key weakness in the Singaporean naval order of battle is the lack
of support ships. Replenishment vessels would allow the RSN to extend
into the South China Sea and to the entrance of the Malacca strait.
It is more than likely that a Singaporean acquisition of such replenishment
ships would spark unrest in the navies of the region as this would be
the key indicator of Singaporean expansion.
With tensions periodically rising and falling between the nations of
the region, the powerful RSN will still provide the rulers of their
tiny nation state with a versatile and potent arm in support of diplomacy.