SINGAPORE - Singapore needs a strong maritime force as an island country that depends on trade as its lifeblood, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Long said as the Singapore Navy marked its 50th birthday on Friday (May 5).
"And because we traded with the world, and the sea was - and still is - our lifeline. We needed a strong maritime force to protect our sovereignty, defend us from seaborne threats, and keep trade - our lifeblood - flowing," he said, after he was welcomed by a guard of honour formed by naval officers decked out in all-white uniforms at Changi Naval Base.
Because Singapore's pioneers understood this, they strived soon after independence in 1965 to build up the navy, which started with just two seaworthy wooden ships and a third ship that was moored to serve as the navy headquarters.
"But what our pioneers lacked in technology and resources, they made up for in their determination and resourcefulness," he told over 1,700 past and present naval officers, including Chief of Navy Lai Chung Han and all eight of his predecessors.
Sailors were sent overseas for training and operational exposure and the navy's hardware was progressively updated.
As a result, Singapore today has a modern navy - with submarines, frigates, patrol aircraft, and unmanned vessels - that is admired at home and respected beyond its shores, he said.
Part of that technologically advanced fighting force is the Littoral Mission Vessel (LMV) RSS Independence, which proudly formed the backdrop of the parade to showcase the navy's next generation of warships.
Fifty years ago, Singapore introduced national service, which Mr Lee called "a radical but essential move" to build a strong defence force for a fledging nation faced with daunting circumstances.
"We had just separated from Malaysia, Konfrontasi was barely over, the Vietnam War was hotting up, South-east Asia was a troubled and unstable region," he noted.
It was also 50 years ago to the day that the Navy Ensign was first hoisted at Telok Ayer Basin to form the Singapore Naval Volunteer Force comprising a handful of volunteers, very much "a makeshift force".
Mr Lee paid tribute to those pioneers, some of whom were present at the event, including the crews of the first two ships - a patrol craft and another a patrol vessel - to bear the Independence name before they were retired from service.
But it was also a day to look to the future, as Mr Lee commissioned the new LMV RSS Independence into service, reading out a citation on behalf of President Tony Tan Keng Yam.
After a brief but solemn ceremony, the commanding officer boarded his new ship before the Singapore naval ensign and the commissioning pennant were raised to the strains of the national anthem.
As the final notes of Majulah Singapura trailed off, the naval vessel sounded a long, steady blast of its horns to announce its arrival as the latest warship of the Singapore Navy.