KIEL, GERMANY - Singapore's acquisition of four new Type 218SG submarines, which offer more firepower and combat options, is a timely move as maritime security challenges evolve and countries beef up their submarine fleets, said Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen.
Speaking on Monday (Feb 18) at the launch of the first Type 218SG submarine named Invincible, Dr Ng said Singapore faces threats in the maritime domain, including terrorism, the shipping of illegal arms, weapons of mass destruction and people, as well as piracy.
He also noted that in Asia, defence spending has increased significantly, reaching US$447 billion in 2017, an increase of about 61 per cent from 2008, with many countries modernising their armed forces.
Citing countries such as China, Indonesia, Thailand, India and South Korea that are planning to expand their submarine fleets, Dr Ng added: "In this context, the acquisition of the new Type 218SG submarines is timely."
Speaking to reporters later, Dr Ng also pointed out that Singapore sits astride two of the busiest sea lines of communication in the world - the South China Sea and the Strait of Malacca - through which about one-third of the world's maritime trade is transported.
"So I think that most people will receive this development by the RSN with assurance that it is able to do its part in keeping our sea lines of communication open not only for Singapore, but the world." he added.
The new Type 218SG submarine - custom-made to Singapore's needs - will have 50 per cent longer endurance, more firepower, more capable sensors and advanced automation than the current fleet of submarines in the Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN).
It will undergo sea trials in Germany before it is delivered to Singapore in 2021.
It is the first of four Type 218SG submarines that are slated to be delivered from 2021 to replace the four refurbished Challenger- and Archer-class submarines that RSN has operated for more than two decades.
The RSN, the Defence Science and Technology Agency, German defence contractor thyssenkrupp Marine Systems (TKMS) worked together on the design and building of the submarine.
Dr Ng called the launch - held at the TKMS' shipyard in port city Kiel located about 90km from Hamburg in northern Germany - a "significant milestone" for the RSN and Singapore as he also described the new submarines as a testament to the continual growth and progress of the RSN.
"It's a proud moment, but I remind all of us within the Singapore Armed Forces and the RSN that the journey here was not all smooth-sailing. It required the vision and persistence of the RSN's pioneers because when we first launched our submarine programme, we could have failed..."
"We got here not in a single jump, (but) because we persisted," he said.
At the launch, Dr Ng's wife, Professor Ivy Ng, group chief executive of SingHealth, launched the submarine by releasing a mechanism that smashed a bottle of champagne against the ship's hull, as per naval tradition.
The ceremony was attended by Chief of German Navy, Vice-Admiral Andreas Krause, RSN's Chief of Navy, Rear-Admiral Lew Chuen Hong, and senior defence officials from both countries. The launch of the diesel-electric submarine meant that it has been built but is not yet operational.
Dr Ng also announced the names of the other three Type 218SG submarines Singapore will acquire - Impeccable, Illustrious and Inimitable. They are under construction, and will be delivered from 2022.
On the Invincible's name, Dr Ng cited part of the submariners' creed which all submariners recite from the first day of their training: "To our adversaries, we are invisible. To our enemies, we are invincible".
"It is a key part of their identity. It is also in this context that we christen this new class of submarines the Invincible-class, indomitable whether in spirit or physically," he said.
As for the other three ships, he said the Impeccable will "(carry) the hallmark of excellence", the Illustrious will leave stories to inspire future generations, and the Inimitable will be "peerless, distinctive and second-to-none".
The Type 218SG is one of the biggest boats ever built in Germany by TKMS, a well-known builder of surface ships and submarines which has been awarded more than 160 submarine contracts since 1960.
The new submarines are customised for Singapore's operating environment, particularly the shallow and busy waters in the region, and are sold to no other country.
The Type 218SG will be fitted with a more advanced Air Independent Propulsion system based on fuel cell technology, which allow it to stay submerged for about 50 per cent longer than the Archer-class submarines.
It can travel at a surface speed of more than 10 knots, and a submerged speed of more than 15 knots. It is armed with eight torpedo tubes and manned by a crew of 28.
Colonel Teo Chin Leong, commanding officer of 171 Squadron, which consists of the RSN's fleet of submarines, said the Type 218SG was the most advanced submarine that TKMS has built so far.
"It's a bigger boat, but we kept to a crew of 28, which is what we use to operate our current classes. To us, that is already significant. What is far more significant is that we are able to now operate three watches instead of two, giving us higher human endurance," he said.
Lieutenant-Colonel Jonathan Lim, commanding officer of Invincible, said that as the commander of the first Type 218SG, he will have to ensure his crew set high standards.
His crew, which come from both Challenger- and Archer-class submarines, have been selected and their training will start in a few months.
The training will involve spending extended periods in Germany.
"We have to do that because of the sheer intensity of what we need to do - training with the German navy, attend their courses and sailing on our boat," he said.
"As the first boat, the things we set in place will form the baseline. For us, when we pick the route we're going to go on, we will be very careful what direction we set, because we must be pushing boundaries," he added.