Budget debate: Singapore navy's frigates to be upgraded with better combat system

The mid-life upgrade will be more than an "addition and alteration". PHOTO: MINDEF

SINGAPORE - The Republic of Singapore Navy's Formidable-class frigates will be upgraded for the next generation of the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF), which is expected to take shape by 2040.

The mid-life upgrade will be more than an "addition and alteration", said Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen in Parliament on Wednesday (March 2), during the debate on his ministry's budget.

"After the upgrade, the frigates' combat capabilities will increase and be equipped with better combat management and communications systems, upgraded weapon systems, along with improved maintenance processes."

Commissioned in 2007, the ships are key fighting platforms for maritime strikes, as well as anti-air and anti-submarine warfare, said Dr Ng.

The next-generation SAF will have more unmanned capabilities.

By 2040, the army will be more manoeuvrable and able to strike faster and harder, said Dr Ng.

The navy, with Multi-Role Combat Vessels, Invincible-class submarines, and unmanned vessels, will have a longer reach at sea, he added.

The next-generation air force, with F-15SG and F-35 fighter jets and new drones, will be more lethal, versatile, and effective, Dr Ng said.

The new SAF will provide this and the next generation "greater confidence in dealing with potential aggressors, to fulfil the SAF's core mission", he added.

In response to MPs who asked how Singapore navigates increasingly complex geopolitical rivalries, he said there is no magic formula.

Singapore's philosophy is to make friends with all countries, and seek no enemies, he said. "But we are realists too, and keen observers of history and events around us, and especially what happens to small, vulnerable states."

Kuwait, an oil-rich state, was invaded by Iraq in 1990, he noted, and Qatar suffered an air, land, and sea blockade imposed by its neighbours in 2017.

"And at this very moment, we witness Ukrainians deeply troubled as they ponder their futures balanced on a knife edge. The unthinkable and unimaginable has occurred - their cities are under bombardment and with foreign troops.

"Their way of life, their dreams are shattered. Their independence and freedom are under peril. Ukraine, with a population of over 40 million, is not a small country, but size and might are relative. For them, Kuwaitis and Qataris, these moments are about life and death, freedom or subjugation."

He added: "Indeed, we live by the dictum that the stronger the SAF, the easier it is to make friends and have fewer enemies. No one will defend Singapore as robustly if Singaporeans do not or cannot."

Among the SAF's latest acquisitions is the Republic of Singapore Air Force's Orbiter 4 close-range unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), which can operate in a range of environments, including urbanised and confined areas.

They can be deployed independently or collaboratively with the existing fleet of larger UAVs to scan the battlefield from different altitudes.

With their smaller size, capable sensors and increased portability, these UAVs can be used for a wide range of operations in peace and combat situations, said Dr Ng.

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