As the RSN celebrates our 50th birthday this year, Navy News takes a look back at our humble beginnings and how far the RSN has come
Singapore is a maritime nation and it requires a strong maritime force to protect it. Safeguarding Singapore and her maritime interests has always been the most important reason for the RSN – from our pioneers spearheading ground breaking initiatives, to the sharper, smarter and stronger Navy we are today. We take a look at how RSN assets have evolved over the past 50 years in the defence of our maritime nation.
On 5 May 1967, the Navy ensign was raised for the first time at Telok Ayer Basin. With only two wooden boats vessels — RSS Panglima and RSS Bedok, which were formerly from the Royal Navy — our fledging Navy was given the charge of defending a young maritime Singapore.
As Singapore’s maritime trade grew, there was a greater need to ensure trade can take place unmolested in our straits, and the Navy acquired the Independence-class patrol crafts (PCs). The PCs protected our coasts against maritime threats such as smuggling and sea robberies. They proved their mettle in the 1974 Laju Incident, when the ferry Laju was hijacked by terrorists. Working together with other maritime security agencies, the RSN stopped the terrorists from escaping.
Independence-class patrol craft (PC)
This year saw the addition of the Sea Wolf-class missile gun boats (MGBs), which marked our young Navy’s foray into maritime warfare. The MGBs were equipped with the latest radars, electronics and missiles; and remained at the sharp edge of naval warfare with system upgrades over the next two decades. RSS Sea Wolf was the first ship in the region to successfully fire an anti-ship missile.
The upgraded Sea Wolf-class missile gun boat (MGB)
In support of the wider SAF, the Navy purchased County-class landing ships tank (LSTs) from the United States at a token cost of US$1. The LSTs support the Army by transporting personnel and equipment overseas reliably. In 1999, the County-class LSTs were deployed to East Timor to join a coalition force headed by the Australian Defence Force. The multinational force was there to conduct peace support operations in a newly-independent East Timor. This deployment is an early example of the range of operations undertaken by the RSN over the years.
County-class landing ship tank (LST)
The RSN acquired minesweeping capabilities when two Bluebird-class coastal minesweepers were procured from the US Navy, RSS Jupiter and RSS Mercury. They ensured the maritime security of our straits by keeping our waters mine-free and safe for passage. The pioneer crew undertook a journey of epic proportions from San Francisco to Singapore, overcoming not only technical and mechanical problems, but also three super typhoons.
Bluebird-class coastal minesweeper
The Swift-class coastal patrol crafts (CPCs) were added to the RSN’s arsenal of capabilities. The first vessels designed and built locally, the CPCs complemented the PCs’ constabulary duties in protecting Singapore’s immediate waters. This helped to relieve the MGBs of daily patrol, allowing the MBGs to focus on naval warfare operations. In 1993, the CPCs were transferred to the Police Coast Guard, where they continued to perform coastal patrol missions until 2012.
Swift-class coastal patrol craft (CPC)
With Singapore’s prosperity, increasingly dependent on maritime trade, the RSN saw an expansion of her mission beyond coastal duties to include ensuring the safety and openness of our sea lines of communication (SLOCs). The Navy was able to carry out this expansion in duties and operations with the Victory-class missile corvettes (MCVs), which are equipped with a complete suite of three-dimensional strike warfare capabilities. The first MCV RSS Victory was commissioned this year. The MCVs were the first class of ship in our Navy to have anti-submarine capabilities.
Victory-class missile corvette (MCV)
As the RSN matured, there was a need to ensure that capabilities remain cutting-edge. Hence, this decade saw the development of new minehunting assets, as RSS Jupiter was scrapped in 1986 and RSS Mercury decommissioned in 1993. In 1991, we entered into an agreement with Sweden for four new Landsort-class mine countermeasure vessels (MCMVs), which we re-classed as our own Bedok-class MCMVs. To the present day, they play a vital role in helping to safeguard the passage of international shipping through our waters, keeping the sea lines of communication safe for all.
Bedok-class mine countermeasure vessel (MCMV)
This year, the RSN acquired four Challenger-class submarines from the Swedish Royal Navy — a major step forward into the underwater dimension that marked the RSN’s development into a balanced, capable Navy. Submarines can undertake subtle stealth operations that could strike at enemy forces on the surface before they could even see it coming. From the Swedish Navy, the RSN also received operational knowledge, and our pioneer submariners were trained in the deep, cold waters of the Baltic Sea and Swedish fjords.
The first Fearless-class patrol vessel (PV), RSS Fearless, was commissioned in 1996. Built and designed locally, the PVs took on the coastal defence role that was previously undertaken by the CPCs. Every day, our PV is out on patrol in the Singapore Strait and in the waters surrounding Pedra Branca
Fearless-class patrol vessel
This year, we commissioned our first Endurance-class LST, RSS Endurance. Built locally to replace the ageing County-class LSTs, the new LSTs were designed with a higher speed and greater sealift capacity, making them better able to support the wider SAF’s transportation needs. The warships can not only operate with small crafts such as the fast craft, but also with air assets such as the Super Puma and heavy-lift Chinook helicopters. With a command-and-control suite, the Endurance-class is also able to coordinate ship-to-shore operations.
With such capabilities, the LSTs have been deployed to undertake various peace support operations, as well as humanitarian and disaster relief operations. In 2004, the LSTs were sailed to the Northern Arabian Gulf for three separate deployments to assist in Iraq’s post-war reconstruction efforts. The RSN took on roles such as taking charge of coalition warships as the Surface Action Commander, providing logistics support and medical assistance, acting as an afloat forward staging base, as well as helping to train members of the Iraqi Navy.
These deployments also saw the utilisation of unmanned systems, namely the Protector unmanned surface vessel (USV), an unmanned vessel based on the rigid hulled inflatable boat. They were used in the Northern Arabian Gulf for maritime security operations. Such systems enable a range of operations to be conducted without putting servicemen and women in harm’s way.
The LSTs were also deployed for the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami disaster in Aceh, Indonesia, where they provided essential medical supplies, support equipment and vehicles. Furthermore, since 2009, the LSTs were deployed twice to the Gulf of Aden, where they took part in multinational counter-piracy operations to ensure international trade could take place safely. After all, Singapore is dependent on the global maritime trade.
This year saw the expansion of the RSN’s underwater capabilities with the acquisition of the Archer-class submarine from Sweden. The Archer-class is equipped with Air Independent Propulsion technology, which further enhances the stealth capabilities of our submarines. In 2013, the year the Archer-class project was completed, the RSN announced further developments for its submarine force: we are to acquire Type 218SG submarines from Germany. This marks the RSN’s venture into customising the design of our underwater assets to suit Singapore’s unique maritime environment.
The Formidable-class frigates signalled the RSN’s transformation into the 3rd Generation Navy, with the first frigate, RSS Formidable, commissioned in 2007. Armed with cutting-edge combat systems, the frigates replaced the MGBs and provided the RSN with greater “strike” naval warfare capabilities. The warships can operate with Sikorsky S-70B Seahawk naval helicopters, which further enhance the frigates’ warfighting abilities in the air and underwater dimensions.
After over 20 years of service, the MCVs received system upgrades in this year. They were fitted with enhanced combat management, communications and sensor systems, as well as electronic warfare systems. This further enhances the ships’ warfare capabilities.
Along with system upgrades, the MCVs were equipped with the capability to operate with ScanEagle Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV), marking the RSN’s further experimentation with unmanned systems. Placed at the rear of the MCV, the UAV is controlled by a single operator on board the ship, who manages the UAV’s flight and monitors several other systems to conduct surveillance and identify targets. This boosts the MCV's surveillance and identification abilities, and provides a better maritime situational picture
Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV)
The littoral mission vessel (LMV) represents the future of the RSN: a Sharper, Smarter, Stronger Navy. Locally designed and built to take on the evolving threats in our maritime landscape, the LMV is a versatile warship that can take on multiple missions from coastal patrols to humanitarian and disaster relief operations. With three LMVs launched so far, the first LMV Independence, which took on the name of our first PC, will be commissioned in May 2017. A total of eight LMVs will replace our ageing PVs by 2020.
Littoral Mission Vessel (LMV)