Customisable submarines built for S'pore needs

Defence Science and Technology Agency's director of naval systems Ong Li Koon said the new Type 218SG submarines can be customised more extensively.
Defence Science and Technology Agency's director of naval systems Ong Li Koon said the new Type 218SG submarines can be customised more extensively.PHOTO: MINDEF

Starting on a clean slate has allowed Singapore to customise the new Type 218SG submarines more extensively, compared with what it could do with second-hand submarines.

Some of the customisations include using materials that are more suited to the saltier Singapore waters, including more automation that affords crew members more rest, and incorporating design elements that are tailored to the average Singaporean sailor's body size and strength.

Mr Ong Li Koon, director of naval systems at the Defence Science and Technology Agency (DSTA), revealed these features when he spoke to reporters yesterday before the launch of the new Type 218SG submarine in the port city of Kiel, Germany.

At the event, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen's wife, Professor Ivy Ng, launched Invincible, which is the first of four Type 218SG submarines purchased by Singapore to be delivered from 2021.

Mr Ong, 43, said the experience with the Republic of Singapore Navy's (RSN) latest submarines - known as the Invincible-class - contrasted markedly with its four existing Swedish submarines.

Between 1995 and 1997, the RSN acquired four Sjoormen-class submarines from Sweden which were built in the 1960s. In 2005, Singapore bought and upgraded a pair of Swedish Vastergotland-class submarines, which are called Archer-class vessels.

"For the Swedish submarines, it was more like taking an existing submarine and trying to customise it to our needs. Now, we have a clean sheet, we take an existing design but customise it. We can do a lot more if we want," said Mr Ong, who was director for the Type 218SG submarine programme before taking up his current role last September.

DSTA, RSN and German defence contractor thyssenkrupp Marine Systems (TKMS) worked together on the design and development of the Type 218SG. Before the launch ceremony, DSTA and TKMS, the manufacturer of the Type 218SG submarines, signed an agreement to collaborate on new technologies such as additive manufacturing and data analytics for naval applications.

The memorandum of understanding allows both parties to work together on the design, engineering, and qualification of additive manufactured components, such as submarine spare parts, which could be tested and trialled on Singapore submarines.

Military Expert 3 Simon Oh, 42, who is coxswain of Invincible, said the RSN's current fleet requires watch keepers in three different locations - for the combat, engineering and weapon functions.

"With this new boat, we are able to co-locate them. This will facilitate better communication and faster decision-making," added the coxswain, who is the most experienced sailor on a ship, responsible for discipline and welfare.

Lim Min Zhang

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 19, 2019, with the headline 'Customisable submarines built for S'pore needs'. Print Edition | Subscribe