Surface Forces: November 21, 2003

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For a navy who's current largest warships are 600 ton Missile Corvettes (MCV), the launch of the first of six Project Delta frigates in January 2004 will herald a significant step forward in capabilities for the Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN).

The Project Delta frigates are modified French La Fayette multipurpose stealth frigates. The first of the class is currently completing construction at the shipyards of the French company DCN, while the other five are being constructed in Singapore, where they will also have their sensors and warfare systems integrated. The approximate cost for these six frigates is around $167 million each.

Very little information is currently known about these ships, including their exact weapons and sensor fits, but the few facts that have been released seem to confirm the theory that when these six ships become fully operational in 2009, they will probably be the most capable and advanced surface combatants in the South East Asian region, and will for the first time allow the RSN to project power outside local waters on the open ocean. This ability is very significant for Singapore, which is the world's second largest seaport, and has always been concerned with keeping its Sea Lines of Communication (SLOC) open and policed. Singapore's MCVs have been reported to be poor sea handlers on the open ocean, because their extensive sensor and electronic warfare installations to their mast have rendered them top heavy and unsuitable for operations outside the littoral waters of the Singapore and Malacca Straits.

Compared to the baseline La Fayette stealth frigates used by the French, Saudi and Taiwanese navies, the Project Delta frigates have some unique features. The superstructure and profile of these ships, for example, have been significantly altered to reduce their radar signatures, and the incorporation of massive automated features on these 363 foot long, 3200 tonne warships have reduced the crew complement to 60, as opposed to 134 in the Taiwanese Kang Ding variant.

Little has been confirmed as to these ships exact weapons complement. What is currently assumed is that these ships will carry an Oto Melera Super Rapid 76mm cannon, a surface to air missile (SAM) missile system, anti ship missiles (ASM), anti-submarine torpedoes and a medium naval helicopter.

There is an assumption that these frigates would be fitted with the 12 kilometer range Israeli Barak SAM system, already operated by the RSN on its MCVs. Some reports, however, state that the most likely SAM fit will be the European Slyver VLS system, with advanced MBDA ASTER 15 30km range active guidance missiles.

If the Slyver/ASTER 15 SAM system is the actual SAM weapon, then these ships will also have an advanced radar and sensor system to utilize the full capabilities of ASTER 15, making them highly capable air warfare combatants, a capability that no other navy in the South East Asian region currently enjoys or will soon acquire.

It is also assumed that the Project Delta frigates will carry Harpoon ASMs, which are widely used by the RSN. Recent local newspaper reports, however, have stated that the RSN eventually hopes to acquire supersonic ASMs. It is implied that these new ASMs will be fitted on the Delta frigates, either initially, or as a later upgrade.

Even the type of naval helicopters that these frigates will operate has yet to be confirmed. In late August 2003, the RSN requested final bids from the manufacturers of the Eurocopter AS532 Cougar, the Sikorsky S-70 Seahawk and the NH Industries NH90 for six aircraft with an option for two additional units. The final decision will be made early next year, with delivery by the end of 2004. -- Shawn Chung

 


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