Two days after the conclusion of a highly successful and well-received RSN50@Vivo event, the Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN) officially commissioned it’s second and third Littoral Mission Vessels (LMV) at RSS (Republic of Singapore Ship) Singapura – Changi Naval Base on 14 Nov 2017. Under a grey drizzling sky, the Minister for Defence, Dr Ng Eng Hen, officiated at the commissioning ceremony, accompanied by Senior Minister of State for Defence, Dr Mohamad Maliki Bin Osman. In attendance too was Chief of Navy, Rear Admiral (RADM) Lew Chuen Hong, President and CEO of ST Engineering, Mr Vincent Chong, and President of ST Marine, Mr Ng Sing Chan, along with senior officials from the Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) and Singapore Armed Forces (SAF).
RSS Sovereignty and RSS Unity were commissioned about six months after the first LMV, RSS Independence was commissioned by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on 5 May 2017. A total of eight LMVs will eventually replace the Fearless-class Patrol Vessels (PV), which have been in service for almost two decades, with the remaining five LMVs expected to be operational by 2020.
Strengthening Singapore’s Seaward Defence
In his speech, Dr Ng stressed the need for the RSN to adapt and prepare for the expanded range of threats and spectrum of missions in the future. He said, “The RSN needed a new littoral ship that could be flexible in deployment, and customised for various purposes and roles. The key to achieving flexibility was modularity to fulfil a range of operations, from securing Sea Lines of Communication to Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief missions. This meant that different modules, which include unmanned systems or medical facilities, needed to be quickly configured onboard the LMVs.”
Minister for Defence, Dr Ng Eng Hen (center), escorted by Chief of Navy, Rear Admiral (RADM) Lew Chuen Hong (right)
On the LMV ‘s performance so far, Dr Ng said, “Here, I am happy to report that the first LMV, RSS Independence, has passed with flying colours. It has already been deployed as part of an RSN Task Group participating in the ASEAN Multilateral Naval Exercise, conducted off the coast of Thailand. With today’s commissioning, RSS Sovereignty and RSS Unity will join RSS Independence to expand the RSN’s range and effectiveness in missions. The success of these three ships will have a catalytic effect on the RSN and, indeed, the entire SAF. Through this program, we have shown what we can achieve when we put our minds to it, and when we work together constructively and diligently. With the LMVs commissioned and sailing with other Navies, RSN’s professional standing will be further enhanced. This is important as both the tempo of operations and the area of operations have expanded considerably in the past decade.”
Highlighting the RSN’s role, “Today, the RSN already contributes to regional and global security efforts such as the coordinated patrolling in the Strait of Malacca with Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand, and international efforts to counter piracy in the Gulf of Aden. The RSN has led the Combined Task Force 151 (CTF151) four times. Going forward, the demands on our RSN will increase. Part of this reflects both the rising trade, as well as the military build-up of regional navies in our surrounding waters. Both the South China Sea and SOM are key sea lines of communication.”
”The RSN’s role in keeping our Sea Lines of Communication secure and accessible is therefore integral to maintaining Singapore’s economic viability as well as maintaining regional stability. Terrorists also know that there are many potential targets at and from sea that they can exploit. The Mumbai attack by terrorists who arrived from the sea is a stark example. For the RSN and the SAF, we are constantly on the lookout against such threats, whether from ISIS or other groups. The threat scenarios are constantly evolving and we too have to adapt constantly to these changes.”
Concluding his speech, Dr Ng said, “To the pioneer crews of RSS Sovereignty and RSS Unity, I charge you to execute your duties with full diligence and valour and vigour. The designers and builders of these ships have done their best for the LMVs and passed the baton to you. Remember always that the sovereignty of Singapore that you guard is precious and cannot be transgressed. Upon it rests our independence. All Singaporeans stand united with you to protect what we treasure on our island home.”
Smarter, Faster, Sharper
The Independence-class LMVs were jointly designed by SAAB Kockums AB and Singapore Technologies (ST) Marine, with the Defence Science and Technology Agency (DSTA) as the overall project manager and systems integrator. The design was guided by two specific requirements: a reduced manning crew for the ship due to Singapore’s low birth rate, and the need to handle multiple roles and missions through the ability to dynamically reconfigure the LMV with containerised mission packages. With the ability to support a medium-life helicopter on its rear landing deck, the RSN has begun the operationalisation of the LMV’s helicopter capabilities, including harbour acceptance of helicopter landing aids and the refuelling system.
LTC Lee Jun Meng, Commanding Officer, RSS Unity, provided an insight into what the road to commissioning for the LMVs was like. “In the initial stage when the ship was being constructed, we will need to bring the ship out to sea to test the platform systems, which includes the engines, the generators, and the auxiliary systems. This is to ensure that the ship can float and move, and once we are confident of that, we will bring the ship back to Tuas Naval Base where we undergo the next series of construction to integrate the combat systems, and that’s where we ensure that the ship is able to fight. While we were doing all these, we continually train our crew, as its all new to us, to be able to operate it efficiently and effectively.”
On the crew training process for RSS Unity, he said, “When we choose our crew, we generally try to choose those with some experience, but they might not be particularly experienced with the new equipment. So what we do is to send them for training by the various equipment suppliers, and with their knowledge, we create our own in-house curriculum to train our subsequent ship crews. With RSS Unity being the third ship, we went through an in-house training package by our training command to ensure our crew has a baseline knowledge to operate the equipment. After this, our crew will need a final hands-on to operate our own ship’s equipment as every ship will have some slight differences.”
On the uniqueness of the LMV, “We are manned by a very lean crew. For example, we are able to scale a surveillance task which might take five or six operators, down to maybe just two, due to sharp sensors coupled with date and execution engines. Another example was In the past, we rely on manual fire fighting systems because sensors were not so smart. Now we can cut down a fire fighting team from seven men to five. So the technology onboard not only enables operational effectiveness, but also a lean crew.”
The LMV features an innovative operating concept, the Integrated Command Centre (ISS), which integrates and co-locates the Bridge, Combat Information Centre (CIC) and Machinery Control Room (MCR) to allow the synergising of the management of navigation, communication, engineering and combat functions. This space also features windows on all sides, providing the crew with a 360° direct line-of-sight- (LOS) view to provide visual awareness of surroundings, especially in congested waters. Its also has numerous advanced sense-making and decision support systems with a high level of automation, resulting in a leaner crew complement. Its integrated network-centric systems enable the communication and sharing of information onboard or ashore to provide a more accurate operational picture.
”In the other ships in the RSN, the navigation, communication, engineering and combat functions are split into different places. For example, the bridge is at the top of the ship, and the other areas could be spread out below deck. The advantage of the ICC during maritime security operations or in congested waters, such as the Singapore Straits, is that we are able to have everyone together, to have the same visual awareness of what is happening around us. Threats could come in much closer to us, and we will want everyone to be on top of the situation and minimise any miscommunication,” said CPT Bernard Cheung, Operations Officer, RSS Sovereignty.
On how the ICC makes his job more efficient, he said, “Traditionally, the Operations Officer will be in the CIC, using the radar systems to give him information, and communicating with the Officer of the Watch (OOW) and his team, who are the eys of the ship during a combat operation. With the ICC, I’m able to do some of the roles traditionally done by the OOW, and also to give him certain directions that he will monitor for me. As and when required, I can also look out of the window and make a visual assessment for myself when things happens.”
”The systems that we have are networked together, so all the different clusters can have their software integrated into a command work console, and from there it’s very easy for us to configure the workspace that we want. So I can have the electro-optics at one place, the radar picture at another place, and I can configure what are the important cues at each point of time and I can see them very quickly myself. Onboard other ships, that process will take longer.”
Another innovative system on the LMV is the Integrated Platform Management System (IPMS), which enhances operational effectiveness and is able to better manage consequences such as engineering defects, or fire and flooding situations. “Because the Patrol Vessel (PV) was a much smaller platform, I had two engines and one operator with me. On the LMV I have four engines and a whole lot of other equipment, and I still have one operator, but the working time has been cut into half because of the IMPS technology,” explained ME2 (Military Expert 2) Jegatheswaran, Marine Systems Supervisor. “I need only 30 minutes to start the four engines with the same manpower compared to an hour on the previous ship.”
On how the IPMS has changed her workflow compared to her previous ship, ME2 Mok Kit Mun, Electrical Control Systems Supervisor said, “The IPMS enables us to trace for most of the defects. If you have a fault somewhere, in the previous day, we had to physically trace the cable to locate the source of the fault. But now, the IPMS also has a decision support system which prompts a list of systems which might be the cause of the fault, so we based on this list and go through it, rather than opening the circuits to check all over the ship.”
”Previously, the mechanical engineers only do the mechanical side of the work most of the time. We don’t really do the defect diagnosis for the electrical systems. But on the LMV, it’s lean manpower, so we have to learn each other’s job and it’s a lot of cross training. We find that it’s a good challenge that we get to know and learn something new here out of our comfort zone,” said ME2 Jegatheswaran.
The weaponry of the LMV consists of the bow-mounted OTO Melara 76mm Super Rapid Main Gun, a stern-facing Rafael 25mm Typhoon Remote Weapon Station, two OTO Melara 12.7mm HITROLE (Highly Integrated Turret, Remotely Operated, Light Electrical) Guns mounted on the port and starboard bridge-wing area, and MBDA VL-MICA missiles. Non-lethal weaponry include two Remote Control LRAD (Long Range Acoustic Device) integrated with a high intensity Xenon Light, and water cannons next to the LRADs. It’s sensor suite consists of the Thales NS100 3D Surveillance Readar, Kelvin Hughes SharpEye Navigation Radar, STELOP Compass D Electro-Optic Director and the STELOP 360° All-Round Surveillance System.
The Combat Management System (CMS) features a fusion and identification engine to identify, track and manage contacts, and a threat evaluation weapon assignment engine to prioritise and assign the relevant weapons to counter threats. “Leveraging automation and connectivity, the CMS integration allows the ship crew to see further and act faster. In seeing further, the CMS allows the LMV to be connected to the larger RSN network, vastly increasing her situational awareness, as she is no longer limited by her own shipboard sensors. SImultaneously in acting faster, there are many decision support engines that give the commanders options based on various situations that he faced,” highlighted Jeffrey Tan, Programme Manager (Naval Systems), DSTA.
Asked about how DSTA mitigates the challenges in the integration of the various systems, he said, “I think the challenges are common to all complex large-scale integration projects, and it is a matter of upfront knowing what the RSN wants, and translating that into technical requirements. Based on the technical competencies and experience we have built on managing the various systems integration projects, it is really to identify some of the more common and more complex technical risks, and to think about what are the mitigation factors. Risk management is something we apply in the course of the work, as well as the key lessons learnt in the past programmes. This will help us to mitigate about 80% of the forseeable problems, so what we are dealing with in the course of the new programme is really the remaining 20% that are probably unforseeable. The LMV has multiple sensors and multiple weapons, so it has a high level of redundancy as well as mitigating a single point of failure.”
Carrying On The Legacy
The legacy of RSS Sovereignty began on 3 Jul 1971, when she was first commissioned as a 33m ‘B’-class Patrol Craft in the Maritime Command, by then Minister for Foreign Affairs, S Rajaratnam, at the Jurong Marine Base. She earned her spurs as one of the four patrol craft that successfully chased and prevented the escape of the terrorists from the Japanese Red Army onboard the hijacked Laju ferry, leading to the Laju incident of 31 Jan 1974.
‘B’-class Patrol Craft model
On 7 Feb 1998, RSS Sovereignty began her second chapter as the 9th commissioned ship of the Fearless-class Patrol Vessels. For two decades, she served with distinction in 24/7 maritime security operations as part of 182 Squadron. Her participation in Ex MALAPURA and the Langkawi International Maritime and Aerospace Exhibition (LIMA) enhanced ties with the Royal Malaysian Navy. On 3 Oct 2017, she was decommissioned in a ceremony at Tuas Naval Base.
Fearless-class Patrol Vessel model
RSS Unity began her life as the 8th ship of the Fearless-class Patrol Vessels, being commissioned on the same day as her sister ship RSS Sovereignty. During her years of service, she participated in Ex SINGSIAM and Ex PELICAN, and was also designated the Naval Technology Evaluation Ship, pioneering several developments and advances in combat systems towards building the 3rd Generation RSN. She was decommissioned in the same ceremony along with her sister ships RSS Sovereignty and RSS Justice, but their names will carry on in the new Independence-class LMVs, reflecting the qualities and ideals exemplified by our founding fathers.
Independence-class Littoral Mission Vessel model