Senior Minister of State for Defence, Dr Mohamad Maliki Bin Osman,
Chief of Navy, Rear Admiral Lew Chuen Hong,
President and CEO of ST Engineering Mr Vincent Chong,
President of ST Marine Mr Ng Sing Chan,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is my pleasure to be here today and I wish all of you a good morning. It is a red letter day for the RSN as we commission not one but two Littoral Mission Vessels (LMVs), the RSS Sovereignty and RSS Unity.
50 YEARS OF PROUD ACHIEVEMENTS
Coming barely six months after Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong commissioned the first LMV RSS Independence in May, today's event is a wonderful testament to the joint capabilities and hard work of RSN, the Defence Science and Technology Agency (DSTA) and ST Engineering. It is also a fitting tribute that three LMVs are rendered fully operational during RSN's Golden Jubilee year, especially so when one considers the sophisticated capabilities of the LMV.
The LMVs represent a quantum jump compared to its predecessor, the Fearless-class patrol vessels. Whether it is speed, endurance, anti-air or Command, Control, Communications and Computers (C4) capabilities, the LMVs outperform by leaps and bounds the Patrol Vessels that were built in the 1990s. The advances in the LMV class of ship are a tangible expression of the advances made over three decades by RSN, DSTA and ST Engineering who have grown and matured in their capabilities. The result of their collective insights is a class of ships that will serve Singapore well over the next two decades or more to protect our waters and interests.
The first challenge for the LMVs was to address the range of threats and the spectrum of mission scenarios which had expanded. 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 on-board the LMVs.
The second constant and perennial challenge was manpower. With birth cohorts falling in numbers, we need the LMV to operate with a leaner crew. LMVs in other navies typically have a 60-men crew. RSN gave ST Engineering a tall order - our ships had to operate with less than half that number, no more than 29 persons!
This level of lean manning would not be possible without the close collaboration of all stakeholders at all stages of development - from design, all the way to equipping. It also challenged the various stakeholders to use technology and employ novel concepts to amplify or assist human effort, without any loss of operational effectiveness. Many years ago, the famous American architect Frank Lloyd Wright said that form and function should be one, joined in a spiritual union. I think Mr Wright would have been proud of the LMV as its Integrated Command Centre evokes resonance with that quote. One rarely uses this adjective in military ships, but the LMV's "bridge" is a work of beauty. Conceptually, it was a breakthrough to co-locate a ship's traditional bridge with its combat information centre and machinery control room. The result is a much larger free-form space in the centre of the LMV. Literally, walls were broken down and with it, silos of personnel responsible for these different tasks in traditionally designed ships. It allowed them to see what others were doing, complement their own work processes, have better awareness of the ships surroundings, and respond to situations quicker and more effectively. The LMV's mast is also similarly worthy of mention, which physically turned the traditional design mast inside out. Sensors are all stacked vertically within an enclosed frame but now access is much improved from the outside, rather than through narrow confined corridors inside. The result is an impressive reduction in maintenance time by up to 80%.
All this work was accomplished in just over four years since the contract-signing. But the most significant element, the proof of the pudding as it were, is whether this new class of LMVs can perform up to expectations. 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.
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.
Seaborne trade in the Malacca Straits has seen steady growth year on year. In the recent ASEAN Defence Ministers' Meeting-Plus of 18 countries in Manila, both the US and China proposed joint exercises with ASEAN. Other European partners and beyond are also keen to participate in maritime exercises. All these countries recognised that the seas in our region are critical to global trade and security. This was one reason why the inaugural International Maritime Review hosted by the RSN in May this year saw the gathering of 44 nations with 46 warships and four aircraft. They came because of the respect they have for RSN, but also because they recognise the strategic geopolitics in these potentially contested waters.
CHALLENGES OF THE NEXT 50 YEARS
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. Examples of disruption in this day and age are not difficult to find. Recently, Qatar's imports dipped considerably when access to its ports was affected by regional tensions.
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.
In the Mumbai attack in 2008, gunmen arrived via inflatable speedboats to target civilians in busy tourist areas. In Marawi, extremists used the adjacent Lake Lanao to smuggle ammunition into, and their wounded out of, the city. We will have to be vigilant against such threats against Singapore because we are surrounded by waters. The two new commissioned LMVs will assist us against these threats.
BUILDING THE RSN FOR THE FUTURE
Today I want to acknowledge all personnel in the RSN, DSTA, and ST Engineering who were responsible for the success of the LMV program. You have done Singaporeans a considerable service in providing RSN with these capabilities to guard Singapore waters.
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.