2 refurbished RSN patrol vessels back in action as part of new flotilla

Crew of Maritime Security and Response Vessel Guardian lining the deck.
Crew of Maritime Security and Response Vessel Guardian lining the deck.PHOTO: GOV.SG

SINGAPORE - Two refurbished Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN) patrol vessels are now back and ready to more effectively defend Singapore's waters after being equipped with new capabilities such as improved ballistics protection, as well as better audio and visual warning systems.

The Sentinel-class Maritime Security and Response Vessels (MSRVs) are part of a new Maritime Security and Response Flotilla inaugurated on Tuesday (Jan 26), said the Ministry of Defence (Mindef).

It added that the flotilla will operate four MSRVs and two Maritime Security and Response Tugboats for a start, with a plan to operate new purpose-built vessels - currently in the early stages of concept design- from 2026.

Two of the four MSRVs - called Sentinel and Guardian - entered operational service on Tuesday, while the other two - Protector and Bastion - will be refurbished and operationalised in the coming months, added Mindef.

The Fearless-class patrol vessels had been in service for about 20 years before they were replaced by littoral mission vessels. The last two of 11 operational patrol vessels were decommissioned last month.

The four MSRVs and two tugboats will now operate alongside the RSN's littoral mission vessels and unmanned surface vessels to protect Singapore's territorial waters and respond to maritime incidents.

On Tuesday, Rear-Admiral Aaron Beng, Chief of Navy, officiated at the flotilla's inauguration ceremony, which was held at the RSS Singapura-Changi Naval Base. The ceremony was also attended by senior RSN officials and representatives from other maritime agencies.

The flotilla falls under the Maritime Security Command, which is responsible for building up, training and maintaining the capabilities of RSN platforms that are deployed primarily for maritime security operations.

Flotilla commander, Lieutenant Colonel (LTC) Lee Jun Meng, said the flotilla will strengthen Singapore's ability to deal with maritime security threats that have grown in scale and complexity through the years.

Mindef said such threats include incidents of sea robbery and intrusions into Singapore's territorial waters.

"The additional capabilities will provide us with more flexibility and a wider range of responses, and allow us to be deployed for greater persistence to safeguard and protect Singapore's territorial waters," said LTC Lee.

The four Sentinel-class MSRVs were refitted to expand their operational lifespan, as well as equipped with a range of "calibrated capabilities", including for enhanced communications, improved visual and audio warning systems, a fender system and modular ballistics protection.

For instance, a long range acoustic device and laser dazzler system allows crew to project verbal warnings and issue visual warnings, day or night.

Fenders, or bumpers, at the side of the ship will enable it to come alongside vessels of interest quickly. A new live video pipe-back system on the MSRV also allows the personnel on shore to see what the vessel sees out at sea.

The tugboats, which are under a long-lease arrangement, are meant to better respond and assist in incidents at sea, as well as support base operations.

In line with other international maritime security agencies, the new flotilla's vessels will bear red "racing" stripes on their bow, said Mindef. Racing stripes designs are used by many coast guard vessels around the world.

The purpose-built vessels are still in the early stages of concept design, and are expected to be larger than the upgraded patrol vessels, with longer endurance to operate at sea for up to a few weeks.

They will also be designed for lean manning with modular capabilities, said Mindef.

Plans to acquire purpose-built platforms and refurbish patrol vessels were announced by Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen last March to enhance Singapore's capabilities to deal with expanded maritime threats in recent years.

Associate Research Fellow Ben Ho from the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies said the MSRV's wide range of capabilities turns it into something like the 'Swiss army knife' of maritime-constabulary vessels.

"This makes it well-suited to handle the spectrum of challenges maritime forces may have to grapple with today," he said.

For instance, the laser dazzler system has been used by other countries to handle "lower-end" threats such as sea robbers and smugglers by temporarily blinding them.

"This capability is particularly useful where the use of lethal force is undesirable or banned, or where the rules of engagement do not call for it," he added.