Surface Forces: Singapore Has No Choice


May 15, 2017: In Singapore the navy put into service the first of eight Independence class LMVs (Littoral Mission Vessels). The first LMV entered service in early May, 32 months after construction began. These are actually 1,200 ton corvettes but locally designed and built to make the most of lessons learned from the Fearless class patrol boats it is replacing. Some American naval experts see the LMV being more like what the U.S. LCS (Littoral Combat Ship) was meant to be. Instead the LCS turned out to be too large, too expensive and not nearly as useful as promised. The problem was the U.S. Navy could never decide what the LCS was supposed to be. Countries like Singapore have it easier as they are seeking relative inexpensive warships that can function as both a coast guard as well as a deterrent to local naval threats. Singapore has a coast guard whose patrol ships are lightly armed. But the navy has more warlike responsibilities and the RSN (Republic of Singapore Navy) that very seriously.

The LMVs are smaller than the 3,000 ton LCS but arrived on time and on budget. A major difference between the LMV and the LCS is that Singapore only required a ship for local operations. The LMV has a top speed of 50 kilometers an hour and endurance of seven days before needing to refuel and resupply. The ship has a crew of 23 but accommodations for 30. Weapons include a 76mm cannon, two one 25mm autocannon and two remotely controlled 12.7mm machine-guns. There are also two LRADs (Long Range Acoustic Device), a non-lethal weapon similar to one the U.S. has been using since 2007. LRAD is basically a focused beam of sound. But it is a focused beam of very loud sound. Anyone whose head was touched by this beam heard a painfully loud sound. Anyone standing next to them heard nothing. But those hit by the beam promptly fled, or fell to the ground in pain. Permanent hearing loss is possible if the beam is kept on a person for several seconds, but given the effect the sound usually has on people (they move, quickly), it is unlikely to happen. LRAD works. The LMV LRAD has a range of about 500 meters. The ship also carries a helicopter (like the U.S. SH-60) that can be equipped for ASW (anti-submarine warfare) or with anti-ship missiles. LMV is expected to operate more like a coast guard vessel than a warship but was designed to do both jobs.

In the 1990s the RSN decided that it would have to be more innovative and entrepreneurial in reforming its Cold War era naval forces. By 2005 the RSN concluded that it was on the right track and was seeking to learn from users of its new Fearless class patrol boats what the successor class should have. RSN was also noting what Israel was doing with similar sized warships and what European warship builders were doing in that area. All of this went into the LMV.

The 500 ton Fearless class began entering service in the mid-1990s and the first six were built to handle ASW but the second six dropped that as the RSN concluded it could use shore based aircraft for that task. Like the LMV, fearless had a 76mm cannon, four remotely controlled 12.7mm machine-guns and Mistral SAMs for air defense. Top speed was 40 kilometers an hour and endurance of three days. Most of the Fearless class boats were eventually transferred to the coast guard but the lessons learned from their use was applied to the LMV.

Singapore learned much from the Israeli experience with their Saar type warships and used a lot of Israeli electronics and weapons on their ships, including the LMV. Singapore also used a lot of automation on the LMV, learning from the American, Swedish and Israeli experience in this area.

The RSN currently has four diesel-electric subs built or refurbished in Sweden and these are being replaced by two Type 218SG class boats from Germany. There are six 3,200 ton French frigates, six 600 ton German corvettes. The RSN is mainly concerned with coastal defense and protecting the Strait of Malacca (through which more than half of world trade passes).

Singapore strives to obtain all the military advantages it can because it is one of the smallest nations in the world, being a tiny (633 square kilometers) island city state but also one the wealthiest. Defense spending is only about $12 billion a year for a population of 5.2 million. The armed forces consists of 71,000 active duty troops, of which 55 percent are conscripts. But on a per-capita basis, Singapore spends more on the military and has more people in uniform than the United States. The troops are highly trained, not easily replaced and the obvious solution is better weapons and equipment.


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