The Republic of Singapore Navy’s (RSN) inaugural littoral mission vessel (LMV) RSS INDEPENDENCE was commissioned as fully operational by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Friday (May 5). Calling it a milestone in the RSN’s 50 years of operations, Mr Lee said: “This is the first of the RSN’s next generation warships. It is also the first Navy ship to be completely designed and built in Singapore, in close collaboration with the Defence Science and Technology Agency.”
The RSS INDEPENDENCE is the first of eight LMVs slated to replace, by mid-2020, 11 Fearless-class patrol vessels. The LMVs have been described by the Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) as faster, smarter and more capable than its predecessors: they can be manned by a crew of 23, down from 30; require half the maintenance time; and can deploy inflatable boats in under a minute compared to 15.
On top of a flight deck to accommodate one medium-lift helicopter, the LMV can carry unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) for conducting the likes of surveillance operations. It can also be reconfigured to perform multiple roles ranging from counterpiracy to humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations – using containerised, customisable mission modules. At the heart of it all is an integrated command centre allowing officers to track equipment, man guns, navigate the seas and more from one single place The RSS Independence and the LMVs will safeguard Singapore’s waters together with the rest of the RSN – not unlike what its first independent iteration, the Singapore Naval Volunteer Force (SNVF), set out to do 50 years ago.
This goal, however, was achieved with a far more limited arsenal of just three vessels when Singapore’s naval ensign was hoisted for the first time on May 5, 1967. They were the former Japanese minelayer RSS SINGAPURA, moored at Telok Ayer Basin as the SNVF’s headquarters, and the only two seaworthy ships forming Singapore’s maritime defences at the time – police boat RSS BEDOK and the patrol craft RSS PANGLIMA. The latter, commissioned in 1956 and brought over from the Malaysian Navy, had a hull built of Siam teak and Malayan hardwood mixed with steel and light alloy. It measured 35.7m in length, versus the RSS INDEPENDENCE 80m, and had a top speed of 15 knots compared to the LMV’s 27.
As a Ford-class boat, RSS PANGLIMA had a total propulsion output of 820kW – more than 10 times less than an LMV-type’s 8,600kW. But it is the weaponry department which perhaps provides the clearest contrast – and advancement – in capabilities between the RSS PANGLIMA and RSS INDEPENDENCE The former was armed with anti-submarine depth-charge throwers and a single antiaircraft gun while the latter boasts anti-missile systems, three different gun turrets with calibres ranging from 12mm to 76mm, two water cannons and a remote-controlled long range acoustic device system.