Master of StealthCOL Teo Chin Leong has made a fruitful career working on one of the Navy's most mysterious platforms – the submarine.
// Story by Benita Teo
// Photos by Chua Soon Lye & Chai Sian Liang
It's one of the Republic of Singapore Navy's (RSN's) stealthiest platforms – most people have never even seen one up close.
Colonel (COL) Teo, Commander 7th Flotilla, however, has not only worked with all three generations of the RSN's submarines, but played an integral role in each type's development.
His destiny as a submariner began in 2000, when he went to Sweden to undergo training as part of the pioneer crew of RSS Centurion. This vessel was the last of the RSN's four Challenger-class submarines, the first generation of submarines acquired by Singapore.
The three-and-a-half year training stint, where he prepared to be an Operations Officer, would mark the start of his career as a submariner. It also remains one of his most memorable experiences in the RSN.
"At that time, we were new to the submarine business, I would say. Training was tough, and it was a very steep learning curve for all of us. We had to rely on our very strong teamwork to get through that period," he recounted.
Singapore had only launched its very first submarine, RSS Challenger, three years earlier in 1997.
On the personal front, this period also a special one for him: his first child, Glenda, was born in Sweden.
COL Teo celebrated another milestone with the Challenger-class submarines when in 2007 he was appointed Commanding Officer (CO) of RSS Conqueror.
This was a defining moment in his career: "It's an aspiration of every submarine officer to be able to command a submarine. It was also from this point I really saw the role that submarines play in the entire defense ecosystem. And that was an important milestone for me."
Growing the RSN's stealth capabilities
In 2010, COL Teo became the Operations Officer of 171 Squadron (now known as 7th Flotilla). When the two Archer-class submarines that were acquired by the RSN in 2005 returned to Singapore from 2011, he planned and coordinated their operationalisation.
Most recently, in February 2019, Singapore launched its first fully customised submarine: the German-built Invincible-class or Type 218SG. The RSN currently operates four refurbished submarines — two Challenger-class and two Archer-class vessels — acquired from Sweden.
With more than two decades of experience working with submarines, COL Teo has seen the RSN's growth in operating these underwater assets.
"Our capabilities have evolved. We have now gained sufficient local knowledge to be able to customise the Type 218SG for our local environment."
Finding a sense of purpose
On 16 Apr, COL Teo was awarded the Long Service Medal by Defence Minister Dr Ng Eng Hen at the National Day Awards Investiture, marking 25 years of service in the RSN.
Looking back, he is grateful for his wife Lynna, who has stood firmly by him since his early days as a new submariner. They have two children: daughter Glenda, who is 18, and son Gavyn, 14.
"I must say I appreciate my wife's support in the work that I do. It was tougher on her, especially when my kids were younger.
"As you know, submarines are stealthy. So when we are out there, there's no means of communication with them. My wife had to bear the responsibility of taking care of the kids and the family. Those were difficult times."
What's kept him going all these years? The Navy family spirit, said COL Teo.
"The people really make the difference, because they define not only how the organisation moves, but also the work environment – my bosses and colleagues on the ground are all supportive, and that makes the Navy a very conducive organisation."