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 yesterday, 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 yesterday, 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 operate alongside the RSN's littoral mission vessels and unmanned surface vessels to protect Singapore's territorial waters and respond to maritime incidents.
Yesterday, Rear-Admiral Aaron Beng, Chief of Navy, officiated at the flotilla's inauguration ceremony, which was held at RSS Singapura-Changi Naval Base.
Flotilla commander, Lieutenant-Colonel 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 allow 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.
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.
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.
"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.