Warship RSS Independence has begun its first overseas deployment since turning operational this May, with two other Littoral Mission Vessels (LMVs) ready for action too as the Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN) gears up amid growing regional challenges.
At a ceremony to commission the RSS Unity and RSS Sovereignty yesterday, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen said the two locally built and high-tech warships reflect a "quantum jump" in capabilities over the patrol vessels which they replace.
More importantly, when they sail with other navies, the new ships will enhance the RSN's professional standing in a region where the "tempo of operations and the area of operations have expanded considerably in the past decade", he added.
"Going forward, the demands on our RSN will increase. Part of this reflects both the rising trade, as well as the military build-up of regional navies in our surrounding waters," said Dr Ng, adding that both the South China Sea and Strait of Malacca are key sea lines of communication.
He added that seaborne trade in the Malacca Strait has grown steadily every year, alongside rising recognition from non-Asean states such as the United States and China that seas in the region are "critical to global trade and security".
The two LMVs are the latest to turn fully operational, with five more expected to do so by 2020.
In all, eight LMVs will replace 11 Fearless-class patrol vessels that have been in service for more than 20 years.
LMVs equipped with advanced threat assessment system
It will be tougher for another ship to catch a Littoral Mission Vessel (LMV) off guard as the latter is equipped with a system that automatically detects and classifies enemy threats around it.
Part of the ship's Combat Management System (CMS), the Threat Evaluation and Weapon Assignment engine will determine the threat level of targets and recommend the most suitable weapon, lethal or otherwise, to engage them.
Non-lethal options include water cannon and loud acoustic devices.
The home-grown technology designed and developed by the Defence Science and Technology Agency (DSTA) makes the threat assessment based on factors such as ship speed and profile.
Mr Jeffrey Tan, 41, a programme manager at DSTA's Naval Systems Programme Centre, said: "The threat evaluation helps the operator make a threat assessment, instead of him having to manually decide among the hundreds of ships - which are fishing boats; which are hostile, neutral or friendly. This is useful especially in a congested environment as it helps to relieve some of the operator's mental load."
The CMS also enables the LMVs to be connected to the Republic of Singapore Navy's communications network, greatly increasing their situational awareness as they are no longer limited to sensors on their own ships, added Mr Tan.
Lim Min Zhang
In his speech, Dr Ng revealed that the RSS Independence has been deployed in the first Asean Multilateral Naval Exercise, which started on Monday and will be held until Nov 22 off the coast of Thailand.
Dr Ng said that the LMVs' sophisticated capabilities "are a tangible expression of the advances made over three decades by RSN, DSTA (the Defence Science and Technology Agency) and ST Engineering". Delivering quicker and greater firepower than the patrol vessels and requiring a smaller crew of just 23 people, the LMVs have both lethal and non-lethal options to deliver calibrated responses against various threats.
LMVs in other navies typically have a 60-man crew, noted Dr Ng during the ceremony held at the RSS Singapura-Changi Naval Base.
On the ship's versatility, the RSS Unity's commanding officer, Lieutenant-Colonel Lee Jun Meng, 36, said: "When we wanted to build a ship, we wanted to build one that could meet not just current requirements, but even future requirements we have not foreseen."