Episode 05 A Protector at Home, a Partner Abroad

Since commissioning, RSS Independence was plunged into the thick of the action, from responding to suspicious vessels to participating in foreign exercises. Can the Navy’s littoral mission vessel live up to expectations?

In darkness, the littoral mission vessel (LMV) RSS Independence closes in on a suspicious sampan. The small craft is making a beeline for a commercial barge – a defenceless slow-moving vessel. Whatever intention the men on the sampan have, one thing’s for sure, they’ve no idea they are being watched by the Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN) warship.

From the LMV’s integrated command centre (ICC), the crew is alerted to the sampan’s suspicious behaviour from more than 10 kilometres away. The ship’s combat management system had been analysing and classifying the hundreds of contacts picked up by the ship’s sensors as RSS Independence patrols through the waters. When an alarm is triggered, the crew investigates. The LMV’s high-resolution electro-optics is directed towards the sampan to suss out the number of men on the boat and also reveal what they’re doing — even in pitch-black darkness.

The information that the RSS Independence has picked up is transmitted back to the Maritime Security Task Force operation centre. At the same time, MAJ Eileen Sow, Executive Officer and second-in-command on board the LMV, gives the command to close in on the barge. The ship’s powerful xenon lights switch on as the men on the sampan are spotted to be climbing onto the barge.

As soon as the xenon light beams down on the sampan like a luminous sword, the men freeze, half-blinded. “Once the sampan realised we were a warship, the men quickly steered the sampan away,” recalls ME2 Eugene Cheng, Navigation Systems Clusters Chief. RSS Independence remains behind to escort the barge, as the Police Coast Guard craft that had been activated chases the sampan into the dark.

To the RSN, this incident is only one of the many different threats that can happen in and around the Singapore Straits, and how the LMV can counter threats. “If a hostile small vessel ever poses a threat towards national assets, such as if it heads towards the oil refineries at Jurong Island, the LMV can respond quickly to intercept the vessel,” says MAJ Sow. Better still, its wide array of sensors and weapons means it has many options for engaging an enemy.

Focal Point: Shining Under Pressure

Besides maritime security missions, the LMV has also stretched its sails to beyond our shores. In Nov 2017, The RSS Independence was part of a RSN fleet that sailed to the Gulf of Thailand for her first international deployment — the first ASEAN multilateral naval exercise. Involving more than 50 naval vessels from ASEAN navies, the exercise was an opportunity for the LMV to show off its modular capabilities to her counterparts.

“At AMNEX, we could feel that the spotlight was on us,” says ME2 Cheng. “Personnel from other navies have heard a lot about the capabilities of the LMV and wanted to see what this ship could do. There was pressure to perform on this big stage.”

In spite of high expectations, the crew were more than prepared to rise to the occasion. The highlight of AMNEX ended with was a large-scale maneouvring serial that involved participating ships lining up in formation for aerial photography — an endeavour that necessitated a reliable and quick system of communication between ships. “We had to talk to several ships within our group, and because my crew is all stationed within the ICC, we were able to close the communication loop very quickly and were often the first to respond,” says MAJ Sow. 

Upping the Ante 

Looking ahead, MAJ Sow knows the LMV still has new capabilities to operationalise in order to fulfil her full potential. “RSS Independence is four out of a total of eight LMVs to have full helo (helicopter) operational capabilities. Though helo operations are not new to the RSN, we still needed to work out the operational and safety parameters for the helos as this is part of the integration process for a new platform.”

A LMV operationalised for helo ops extends the warship’s reach and surveillance capabilities, whether in conventional warfare, maritime security operations or humanitarian and disaster relief operations.

A Pillar of the RSN

Every day, RSS Independence keeps an eagle eye over the waters as it plies through the strait, escorting merchant vessels and responding to maritime security situations. As the crew continue to improve their skill, they haven’t lost sight of the little things that give meaning to what they do.

On the ship undergoing training for his Bridge Watchkeeping Certificate, Assistant Navigating Officer 2LT Jack Tan shares an anecdote — one that fills him with pride.

“I was on duty at the ICC as the seconds counted down towards the end of 2017. RSS Independence was assigned to patrol the sectors nearer to Marina Bay as the area was on higher alert at that time,” 2LT Tan says.

Then, “at the stroke of midnight, fireworks began rising and lighting up the Singapore skyline. At that instant, I could feel how meaningful our work really was. It really struck me – the vital role that my crew and I play to ensure Singaporeans could celebrate in peace and security.”

Welcome to the family, Independence.