Chief of Navy, Rear-Admiral Lew Chuen Hong
Chief Executive of the Defence Science and Technology Agency Mr Tan Peng Yam
President and CEO of ST Engineering Mr Vincent Chong
President, Marine of ST Engineering, Mr Ng Sing Chan
Former Navy Chiefs
Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,
Thank you for inviting me to commission the Republic of Singapore Navy's (RSN) sixth, seventh, and eighth Littoral Mission Vessels (LMVs).
An Unexpected Backdrop
When I accepted the invitation to be here today, no one could have foreseen the present situation, where a new strain of corona virus originating in Wuhan has infected thousands around the world, mostly in China, and claimed more than two hundred lives, in China. Even as we speak, the situation is fast evolving. Just a few hours ago, the World Health Organization has declared this a public health emergency of international concern.
To a significant extent, the mood in Singapore remains calm. Large-scale events like the River Hongbao Fireworks display, which I attended on Monday night, were not cancelled even though the number of visitors dropped by 10-15% compared to last year. On Wednesday, my friends in the Singapore Maritime Officers Union hosted a charity lunch for about 1,300 people, while my grassroots volunteers at Sin Ming Ville hosted their annual Lunar New Year reception for seniors where 250 people attended. Most people were not wearing masks – they were aware that in normal circumstances, masks are not needed. They're usually only needed when we are unwell to protect others.
While there had been some concerns about the availability of masks at retail outlets, yesterday's announcement that the Government will provide every household with four masks just in case anyone fell sick, has been reassuring. There is no need to panic. If we use the masks only when necessary, there will be enough. For that to happen, everyone must understand and do our part – exercise personal responsibility, practice good hygiene, and act rationally.
Arising from the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) outbreak of 2003, Singapore's defences against similar incidents have been strengthened considerably, at the personal, community and systems levels. When the multi-ministry task force was convened last Wednesday, before the first case in Singapore was confirmed, we could move quickly beyond plans into action mode. Over the ensuing days, as the situation developed, we adjusted.
Why is this important? Because experts agree that we are still in the early days of the viral spread. Therefore, even with the best plans in place, there could be surprises. If and when they emerge, it will not only test our abilities to respond appropriately, it will also test our resilience as a people and our unity in overcoming adversity.
Singapore's Reliance on the Seas
In the same way, building up our Navy and its fleet of vessels is to ensure that we are up to the test. We must have the capability to defend ourselves and protect our people against possible attacks. When this capability is coupled with resilience and unity of our people, we have a powerful deterrent.
Resilience and unity are usually founded on knowledge of our challenges and having a shared determination to overcome these challenges. What are our challenges in maritime security?
For Singaporeans, the sea continues to be a duality of survival and prosperity. As Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said at the commissioning ceremony of the first LMV, the RSS Independence, trade with the world means that “the sea was and still is our lifeline”. We continue to rely heavily on maritime trade to provide much of our daily essentials, including the food and fuel needed to feed our people and drive our economy. Not far from here, the Tuas Mega Port also attests to the importance of Singapore's maritime industry for our economic future.
At the same time, our reliance on the sea is a strategic vulnerability that others can potentially exploit. We risk becoming “sea-locked” if we lose access to the sea lines of communication that link us to the rest of the world. Every part of our island is not far from our coastline. Our maritime borders are inherently porous. Together, they mean that we are susceptible to maritime threats, ranging from piracy to terrorist attacks. This is why we need a strong navy to protect our coastline, and to keep our sea lines of communication open. Here, the LMVs will play a vital role in strengthening the RSN's ability to defend our everyday.
The LMVs Turn Constraint Into Opportunity
The commissioning of the last three LMVs in the series today therefore marks an important milestone. We have even more reasons to take pride in these vessels because they are quintessentially Singaporean, being designed and built in Singapore by Singaporeans, for Singaporeans.
Testament to our people's determination to defend our way of life despite our constraints, the vessels are designed to overcome the manpower limitations that the Navy feels more intensely, being the smallest of the three services. For instance, while sensors on warships are traditionally exposed to the elements and consequently require frequent maintenance, the masts on the LMVs were deliberately constructed to house their sensors internally, shielding them from the harsh maritime environment. Coupled with easier access to the sensors from within the ships, the LMVs have been able to halve the workload for maintenance compared to the Patrol Vessels they replace.
The key to unlocking manpower savings ultimately lies in the abilities of our people. The RSN's highly trained combat technicians are able to operate and maintain complex naval systems. Their deep expertise also enables technical defects to be resolved out at sea without the ships having to return to harbour. This reduces down-time and allow the ships to maintain a high level of operational readiness.
Their capacity to be professional life-long learners is also commendable. These exceptional men and women never cease to hone their skills at every stage of their careers, seeking to become masters of their craft. They personify the RSN's culture of developing people to their fullest potential. If I may say so, they make excellent role models for the SkillsFuture initiative!
The LMVs' Contributions to the RSN's Mission
The hard work and dedication of our people in designing and operating the LMVs are paying off.
When we had a dispute with our neighbours over our territorial waters, our LMVs were there to stand guard and defend our sovereign rights. In June 2018, the LMVs, along with counterparts from our Police Coast Guard, also successfully guarded Singapore against seaborne threats during the DPRK-US Singapore Summit, showcasing Singapore to the world as a reliable and competent host.
In November, RSS Indomitable was also involved in rescue efforts on-board the merchant vessel Hoyu. The Hoyu had caught fire, becoming stranded in our territorial waters. Working hand in hand with the Police Coast Guard and the Singapore Civil Defence Force, RSS Indomitable rescued all 18 crew members on-board Hoyu.
These episodes demonstrate the importance of the excellent rapport that has been established between the RSN, the Police Coast Guard and the Singapore Civil Defence Force. Our agencies have built a close relationship that enables robust and prompt Whole-of-Government responses to incidents at sea, thus serving as an important force multiplier for Singapore.
In closing, I would like to congratulate the RSN, the Defence Science and Technology Agency, ST Engineering and our partners in the defence industry for the successful completion and operationalisation of all eight LMVs within the short span of just four and a half years since the launch of the first LMV. This is an outstanding feat that speaks volumes of your joint capability and expertise.
To the men and women of RSS Fortitude, RSS Dauntless and RSS Fearless, I am confident that you will live up to the values of the RSN and continue its proud tradition of selfless service to our nation.
Remember why we are here today. Defending our sea will always be critical to our island nation. We count on you to protect our people and our way of life. You too, can count on us, civilians from all walks of life. Because collectively as Singaporeans, we know the challenges and we share a determination to overcome them together with you.
I wish you all fair winds and following seas. Thank you very much.