Singapore's acquisition of new 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 yesterday 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 noted that in Asia, defence spending has risen significantly, hitting US$447 billion (S$606 billion) in 2017, a jump 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.
Referring to the Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN), he said: "So I think 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."
The new submarine will have 50 per cent longer endurance, more firepower, more capable sensors and advanced automation compared to the current RSN fleet of submarines. It will undergo sea trials in Germany before it is delivered to Singapore in 2021. It is the first of four Type 218SG submarines slated to replace the four refurbished Challenger-and Archer-class submarines that the RSN has operated for more than two decades.
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 launch of the diesel-electric submarine meant that it has been built but is not yet operational.
The RSN, the Defence Science and Technology Agency (DSTA) and German defence contractor thyssenkrupp Marine Systems (TKMS) worked together on the design and building of the submarine.
Dr Ng called the launch - held at TKMS' shipyard in port city Kiel, about 90km from Hamburg in northern Germany - a "significant milestone" for the RSN and Singapore and hailed the new submarines as a testament to RSN's continual growth and progress. "We got here not in a single jump, but because we persisted," he said.
Dr Ng's wife, Professor Ivy Ng, group chief executive of SingHealth, yesterday launched the submarine at a ceremony attended by the 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.
Dr Ng also announced the names of the other new submarines - Impeccable, Illustrious and Inimitable - which are under construction and will be delivered from 2022.
He officiated at the launch yesterday after attending the Munich Security Conference over the weekend, where he met defence counterparts on the sidelines, such as Acting United States Secretary of Defence Patrick Shanahan.
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," he said.
Lieutenant-Colonel Jonathan Lim, commanding officer of Invincible, said his crew, coming from RSN's existing submarines, have been selected and training involving extended periods in Germany will start in a few months.
"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.