Dr Ng Eng Hen, Minister for Defence, men and women of the Navy, past and present, distinguished Guests, ladies and gentlemen.
Today marks the 50th birthday of the Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN). I am honoured to celebrate this Golden Jubilee with all of you, and on this occasion to commission the first-of-class Littoral Mission Vessel, RSS Independence.
50 years ago is also when we first introduced National Service (NS). That was a radical but essential move. As a newly independent country, we had to build up the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) from scratch. We had just separated from Malaysia, Konfrontasi was barely over, the Vietnam War was hotting up, and Southeast Asia was a troubled and unstable region. The British bases and forces were still here, but the British were anxious to withdraw their forces, and in fact withdrew all their forces by 1971, earlier than expected. Many doubted that Singapore could survive.
A strong defence force was an absolute necessity and the only way to have one was through universal National Service, and that required the support of every Singaporean - parents to prepare sons for NS, wives to look after the home, and employers to make alternative work arrangements during in-camp training. So that generations of young men could answer the call of duty to put heart and soul into protecting our homes and our loved ones. Because we traded with the world, and the sea was and still is our lifeline. We needed a strong maritime force to protect our sovereignty, defend us from seaborne threats, and keep trade - our lifeblood - flowing.
At Telok Ayer Basin on this day 50 years ago, we created the Singapore Naval Volunteer Force. It was a makeshift force. All we had were a handful of volunteers from the Singapore Division of the Malayan Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve, and the Singapore Women Auxiliary Naval Service. Our fleet consisted of just two seaworthy wooden ships - RSS Panglima and RSS Bedok - plus one third ship, RSS Singapura, moored to serve as the navy headquarters!
What our pioneers lacked in technology and resources, they made up for in their determination and resourcefulness. We sent midshipmen abroad to Britain, Australia, New Zealand and Canada, to train and gain operational experience. They worked hard to build and modernise the Navy. They acquired and passed down the art of sea-faring and the skills and discipline of seamen. Progressively, we equipped the Navy with more up-to-date hardware, starting with six patrol crafts in 1968, one of which was the first RSS Independence, and gradually added Missile Gunboats (MGBs), Landing Ships Tank (LSTs), minesweepers, and Missile Corvettes (MCVs). It was only in 1975 that the Navy was named the Republic of Singapore Navy, one of the three services of the SAF.
Thus starting from two wooden ships, we now have a full-fledged Third Generation Navy - a fighting force including submarines, frigates, maritime patrol aircraft, unmanned vessels and unmanned aircrafts. Professional and courageous fighting men and women, who have been tested in real operations - Officers and men who have carried out counter-piracy missions in the Arabian Gulf, search-and-rescue operations after aircraft incidents, and coordinated patrols in the Malacca Straits. A navy that is admired at home and respected beyond our shores!
Today, the RSN reaches another milestone with the commissioning of the Littoral Mission Vessel (LMV) RSS Independence. This is the first of the RSN’s next generation warships. It is also the first Navy ship to be completely designed and built in Singapore, in close collaboration with the Defence Science and Technology Agency.
It is therefore apt that she is named RSS Independence. It is a significant and historic name. Significant, because protecting Singapore’s independence has always been a core mission of the RSN. Historic, because the name “Independence” carries the legacy and spirit of the RSN pioneers starting from the first RSS Independence, the patrol craft, which played a key role during the Laju ferry hijacking in 1974.
I am very glad that the pioneers of the RSN, and members of the crews of the first and second RSS Independence ships are here today, to witness the commissioning of LMV RSS Independence, including Major (Ret) Alan Aw, the first Commanding Officer (CO) of Patrol Craft Independence, and Captain (Ret) Philip Tay, who was CO during the Laju hijacking, as well as members of the Singapore Division of the Malayan Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve and the Singapore Women Auxiliary Naval Service. Some saw active service in Tawau in East Malaysia during Konfrontasi. Several were present at Telok Ayer Basin on the 5 May 1967, 50 years ago, when the Navy Ensign was hoisted for the first time. Your presence honours the new RSS Independence and its crew, and reminds us what the Navy is about: not just capable ships and up-to-date technology, but fighting spirit and dedication to the nation.
To the CO, Lieutenant Colonel Tay Choong Hern and the crew of the LMV RSS Independence, and to the men and women of the RSN, you inherit a proud history, and are entrusted with a vital mission. It is now your duty to sail the ships of the next generation Navy, and keep Singapore safe and secure, in peacetime as in war. Onwards and upwards! Thank you.