Flashback: 5 RSN firsts

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05 May 2021 | MILESTONES

Flashback: 5 RSN firsts

In commemoration of the Republic of Singapore Navy's (RSN's) 54th birthday on 5 May, here's a look back at a few "firsts" you may not have known.

Story Sherlyn Quek // Photos PIONEER photographers & courtesy of RSN

RSS Sea Wolf's firing of the Gabriel anti-ship missile in March 1974 marked the RSN's entry into the missile age.
English 华文

1) The RSN made history for being the first Navy in Southeast Asia to successfully fire an anti-ship missile

Commissioned in the mid-1970s, the Sea Wolf-class Missile Gun Boats (MGBs) were the RSN's fastest warships and could reach top speeds of more than 30 knots (56km/h).

What's more, they were armed and upgraded with a variety of weapons over the years – from the Gabriel anti-ship missile and Bofors gun to the Harpoon surface-to-surface missile and the Mistral surface-to-air missile.

After serving Singapore for more than 30 years, the Navy's fleet of six MGBs were decommissioned on 13 May 2008, with the Formidable-class frigates taking over as the RSN's main strike craft.

The Skyvan acted as the Navy's "eyes in the sky" from the early 1970s to 1993. [Photo: RSAF Facebook]

2) The RSN took to the skies for the first time in 1975

In April 1975, the SH-7 Skyvan flew its first maritime air surveillance (MAS) mission, acting as "eyes in the sky" to enhance the Navy's reconnaissance capabilities.

Its crew of six included a mix of Republic of Singapore Air Force (pilot, co-pilot, navigator and loadmaster) as well as RSN personnel (Action Information Coordinator and a radar operator).

These flying workhorses had a speed of 150 knots (278kmh), altitude capability of about 9,840 feet (3km) and endurance of 4.5 hours in the air.

Acquired in 1973, the British-made Skyvans were meant mainly for transport missions in the beginning. However, they gradually took on a bigger role in MAS, patrolling over Singapore's waters for suspicious vessels and surveying maritime activities.

After serving for close to 20 years, they were replaced by the Fokker F-50 Maritime Patrol Aircraft in 1993.

The first submarine to return home, RSS Conqueror sailed into Singapore's waters on 2 May 2000. [File photo]

3) The RSN acquired its first submarines in 1995

Purchased from the Royal Swedish Navy (RSwN), the RSN's four Challenger-class submarines are armed with heavy weight torpedoes. Relatively small and nimble, these stealthy warriors of the deep can travel at speeds of 16 knots (30km/h) submerged.

In 1996, a pioneer batch of 12 Navy personnel were sent for training by the RSwN to learn basic knowledge and gain experience in operating these boats, before returning to build Singapore's submarine capabilities.

Then-Minister for Defence Dr Tony Tan launched Singapore's first submarine, RSS Challenger, at Kockums Shipyard in Malmo, Sweden on 26 Sep 1997.

RSS Challenger and RSS Centurion were retired from service in 2015 after serving for almost two decades, while the last two boats – RSS Conqueror and RSS Chieftain – will eventually be replaced by the new Invincible-class submarines.

LTC (Ret) Gill (first row, second from right) receiving a momento during the RSN's 50th anniversary celebrations on Navy Day 2017.

4) LTC (Ret) Jaswant Singh Gill was Singapore's first Navy commander

The Singapore Naval Volunteer Force's (SNVF's) naval ensign was first hoisted at Telok Ayer Basin on 5 May 1967, signifying the birth of Singapore's Navy.

Speaking at that historic ceremony, Lieutenant Colonel (LTC) (Ret) Jaswant Singh Gill – then the Executive Officer of the SNVF – said: "Now that the new white ensign of our own young country will fly here and in our ships, I hope that you will all remember that its reputation is in your hands.

"And that you would resolve to do your best to ensure that it will always be regarded with honour and respect wherever it flies."

LTC (Ret) Gill, who retired from the military in 1972, also served in other key defence positions in the SAF, such as Commanding Officer (CO) of Pulau Blakang Mati Camp, and commander of Tengah Air Base and Changi Air Base.

The 97-year-old passed away in December 2020.

Charting new waters: COL Goh has risen up the ranks to become the Navy's highest-ranking female naval officer, and commanded advanced warships like RSS Supreme.

5) COL Jerica Goh was the first female commanding officer of an RSN frigate, and rose through the ranks to become the first female colonel in the Navy

In 2013, then-LTC Goh took over the helm of warship RSS Supreme and became the first female CO of a frigate. Three years later, she became the highest-ranking female naval officer when she was promoted to the rank of Colonel (COL), where she helmed training development for the RSN.

On what she enjoys about working in the RSN, COL Goh said: "It's slightly different everywhere in the Navy. You get to work with different teams and people with different skillsets. But you can find the same Navy family spirit everywhere."

In her 28-year-long career with the Navy, she has led search operations for the missing Indonesian AirAsia QZ8501 aircraft in 2014 as CO of RSS Supreme, and has been deployed twice to the Gulf of Aden for counter-piracy operations.

The 47-year-old trailblazer is now serving a staff tour as Director of Nexus, a department in the Ministry of Defence which aims to strengthen the public's commitment to defence through Total Defence and Nation Education initiatives.


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