Sunday, 14 September 2014

Le Frégate pour l' Petit KRI Usman Harun Heading Home, Yet To Be Commissioned.

Bung Tomo Class Light Frigate

KRI Bung Tomo (357) docking at Portland, UK on 1st Aug 2014. Bung Tomo or Brother Tomo is the nick name of Sutomo, one of Indonesia's National Heroes. Photo : Les Blackaller / MarineTraffic

The Bung Tomo Class frigates were originally known as the Nakhoda Ragam-class, built for the Royal Brunei Navy based on the Yarrow F2000 light frigate design in 1999. 3 ships were constructed, customized in part for the smaller stature of Asians in general. For reasons not made public, Brunei rejected the frigates upon completion of their sea trials claiming that they were not built to specifications. The ship builder BAE Systems sort arbitration through the International Court of Arbitration in 2004 and after closed door hearings in 2006, eventually won the case the following year. Brunei took ownership of the vessels but commissioned the German ship builder Lurssen Werft to sell them off. It wasn't till late 2012 that the frigates were finally sold to Indonesia at a great discount. They were to be renamed the KRI Bung Tomo, KRI John Lie and KRI Usman Harun, after Indonesia's national heroes. The first 2 may be Indonesian heroes but Usman and Harun were undisputedly terrorists who infiltrated Singapore and carried out sabotage and bombings on non-military targets that killed 3 innocent civilians and wounded 33 more in 1965. They were captured, tried and convicted of murder and eventually executed.

For a detail account of that terror attack on Singapore and the naming of the frigate after the 2 terrorist, read my earlier blog "Discount Frigates For Small People with Hare Brains : The KRI Usman-Harun Saga".

Commissioning! But Only Ships One And Two

After languishing at the piers at Barrow-in-Furness in England for 7 years, the first and second-in-class KRI Bung Tomo ( Pennant number 357 ) and KRI John Lie ( Pennant number 358 ) had been inducted into the Indonesian Navy on 18th July 2014 in a ceremony presided over by Indonesia's Defense Minister Purnomo Yusgiantoro. For reasons not openly revealed the third-in-class KRI Usman Harun ( Pennant number 359 ) was not commissioned together with her sister ships even though all three were physically at the same location. I was hoping perhaps it was the Indonesian President-elect Bung Dodo who postponed the commissioning because he understood the serious damage that was already done to bilateral relationship between Indonesia and Singapore from the naming saga. Might he be contemplating a name change for frigate number 3? Doubtful. The admirals will stage a mutiny before that can happen.

More probably we are seeing the effects of Singapore's strong protest against naming the frigate after the two terrorists earlier in Feb 2014. TNI-AL may not want to admit it least it be perceived as weakness but the defense ministry could be trying to keep the entire event low profile to avoid further stoking of tensions between Singapore and Indonesia. Face saving is very important for people with huge egos.

Going Home

All three frigates have since left the United Kingdom for Indonesia. The lead ship KRI Bung Tomo was the first to leave Barrow-in-Furness at the end of July, shortly after her commissioning, with a crew of 87 Indonesian naval personnel and 5 ship's technicians from the UK. She made port calls at Portland ( UK ), Malaga ( Spain ), Civitavecchia ( Italy ), Port Said ( Egypt ), Jeddah ( Saudi Arabia ), Cochin ( India ) before eventually arriving at the Indonesian Port of Belawan in Northern Sumatra on 8th Sep 2014, a 9740 nautical mile journey ( about 18038km ) that took 42 days. After throwing a cocktail reception, she continued her journey the next day to the capital city of Jakarta and will travel onwards to Surabaya in East Java.

It was revealed that all the Christian members of the crew performed a religious pilgrimage to the Vatican during the ship's stopover in Italy and then all the Muslim members perform the umrah ( minor pilgrimage ) when the ship docked at Jeddah.

While in transit, KRI Bung Tomo also took part in war exercises off Lebanon, Oman and Jeddah together with warships from several countries, like the United States, Canada and Japan. This is common naval practice among friendly nations to conduct passing exercises (PASSEX) and other more sophisticated exercises when they meet.

KRI Usman Harun (359) Leaving Portland, UK 13th Aug 2014. Photo : Les Blackller / MarineTraffic

AIS tracking information seem to indicate that the other 2 frigates are basically tracing the journey of the KRI Bung Tomo with a delay of about 10 days, and they have so far been travelling together as a task group / mini convoy. They are expected to arrive in Belawan, Indonesia around 20th Sep 2014, barring unforeseen circumstances. They are scheduled to sail to Surabaya where they will be involved in a display to celebrate Indonesia's Armed Forces Day on 5th Oct. The frigates will eventually be inducted into the Indonesian Navy's Eastern Fleet where they will assume offshore patrol duties.

KRI John Lie (358) and KRI Usman Harun (359) seen berthed together at Malaga, Spain 20th Aug 2014. Photo Paco Canela / MarineTraffic

Newly Built?!

Quote from the Jakarta Post " The Indonesian Navy’s Col. Yayan Sofiyan could not hide his sense of pride as he was entrusted by the government to bring home a newly built British-made light frigate, the KRI Bung Tomo." This was obviously an error as the journalist who wrote that article must have been absolutely ignorant of the frigate's tortuous and troubled past. If you can call a 14 year old warship Newly Built, then by the same account my nine year old car has to be better than Factory Mint! Wake up guys, in most other navies 14 years is about the time you start planning and conducting mid-life upgrades and service life-extension programmes ( SLEP ). After all, the useful lifespan of a hull is about 30 years, maybe 40 years, if you maintain it well.

Just Passing

So Le Frégates pour l' Petit, the frigates for small people, are finally sailing home. Their journey through the Straits of Malacca will bring them to the close proximity of Singapore but there will be no PASSEX with the Republic of Singapore Navy. They ( specifically the KRI Usman Harun ) are not even welcome to stop at the city state, missing the chance to call at one of South East Asia's most advanced naval facilities at Changi Naval Base*. If the Indonesian admiralty had any brains they would probably want the frigates to slip past Singapore as quietly as possible. They can continue to languish at some non-descript Kalimantan base for the next 20 years for all I care. Makes a formidable admiral's fishing boat!

* Singapore's Changi Naval Base regularly berths visiting ships of the USN, including the Nimitz Class nuclear powered aircraft carriers. It is also host to the Littoral Combat Ship USS Freedom (LCS 1) during her 8 month deployment to South East Asia recently.

15th Jul 2013 The littoral combat ship USS Freedom (LCS 1), right, and the guided-missile destroyer USS Fitzgerald (DDG 62), top, are moored at Changi Naval Base, Singapore, with the Republic of Singapore navy formidable-class frigate RSS Stalwart (72), bottom. The ships will participate in Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT) Singapore 2013. USN Photo

Friday, 12 September 2014

Japan's Soryu Class Submarine : Collins Replacement Prime Contender

The Collins Class Submarine

HMAS Sheean SSG-77 conducting air sea safety assessment with a Seahawk helicopter from HMAS Adelaide off Garden Island, Western Australia. RAN Photo.
The Royal Australian Navy (RAN) currently has a fleet of 6 Collins class diesel-electric hunter-killer submarines (SSK) in its arsenal. They were designed in collaboration with Kockums AB of Sweden and largely built in New South Wales, Australia, by the then newly formed Australian Submarine Corporation. They are essentially enlarged versions of the original ( non-AIP )Vastergotland class submarine which then served the Royal Swedish Navy. The RAN classifies them as " Guided Missile Submarine, Diesel-Electric " or SSGs, obviously referring to the Sub Harpoon missile launching capability. The are named after distinguished former members of the Australian Navy. They have pennant numbers from SSG-73 to SSG-78.

At 3100 tonnes surfaced and 3400 tonnes submerged, they were then the world's largest modern non-nuclear submarines. Among the first to be totally designed with computer-aided techniques, they were supposed to be highly automated, have long endurances, quiet, fast and pack a powerful punch. From the RAN webpage "Designed to be as quiet as advanced technology can achieve, Collins Class submarines have been developed from five generations of submarines designed and built by the Swedish Navy."

However, the reality was that the entire Collins project was fraught with problems and delays right from day one and even to this day. The Aussies made the fundamental mistake of taking a completely new submarine design and having it built domestically at a new boat yard with no prior history or experience of submarine construction.

First of class HMAS Collins was laid down in 1990 and commissioned in 1996 while the 6th boat HMAS Rankin was laid down in 1995 and commissioned in 2003. Shortly after that in 2005 the boats were to undergo extensive upgrades to the combat control system just to remain operational, although they also gained additional weapons capabilities like the Mk 48 ADCAP torpedoes.

With availability between 0 to 2 boats at any one time in the past few years, the RAN's submarine force only exist on paper. It is no wonder that the planning for the Collins replacement started as early as 2009, barely 6 years after the last boat HMAS Rankin was commissioned.

SSG-78 HMAS Rankin, the newest of the six Collins class SSK. Royal Australian Navy Photo.


Ship's Crest of all six Collins boats according to seniority from top to bottom. Source : RAN

Australia's SEA1000 Future Submarine Project

Boldly sailing into the sunset? HMAS Waller SSG-75 off the Fremantle coast in preparation for submarine escape and rescue exercise. RAN Photo
The SEA1000 Collins replacement project, otherwise known as the コリンズ級潜水艦更新計画 to the Japanese, aims to have the 6 troubled Collins Class conventionally powered submarines replaced by 10 to 12 boats by the year 2030 - 2040. It is expected to cost the Australian Government an estimated A$36 to A$44 billion. The four broad options they have would include :

- Buying military off the shelf designs. Though safest might not meet RAN requirements.
- Buying military off the shelf designs modified to Australian specifications and built in the country of origin. This mitigates some of the risks relating to both the design and the construction.
- Buying military off the shelf designs modified to Australian specifications and built in Australia. Deja vu.
- Commissioning a completely new design solely for the RAN built anywhere. Synonymous with kamikaze.

With the Collins fiasco still fresh in their minds, the Aussies naturally would want to focus on a proven design this time round. To have made the same mistake twice would be really moronic and unforgivable. So the most likely option to be selected would be the modified off the shelf design built elsewhere.

 Like I have mentioned in my previous article, there are not many options when shopping for a submarine as there are only a handful of exporters worldwide. In the past 20 years since the commissioning of HMAS Collins, the submarine's designer Kockums AB had become part of the German ship building conglomerate ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems (TKMS) through a series of mergers and acquisitions. The submarine's builder the Australian Submarine Corporation which initially started out as a joint venture between Kockums AB, the Australian Industry Development Corporation and 2 other private companies was also nationalised and is currently known as ASC Pte Ltd.

TKMS actually has a design that is supposedly catered for Australia's special needs in its subsidiary Howaldtswerke-Deutsche Werft's (HDW) Type 216 diesel-electric submarine. Although its design is somewhat based on the existing Type 212A used by the German and the Italian navies, the Type 216 is substantially bigger ( 4000 tonnes versus 1800 tonnes ) and has yet to be built. That alone would make it much lass palatable to the Aussies.

Artist's impression of the TKMS HDW Type 216 SSK Source : TKMS

To sum it up, Australia needs a conventional diesel-electric submarine (SSK) with almost the size of a nuclear powered submarine (SSN), this to enable it to have the range and endurance to patrol her vast coastline. Australia also needs it fast, like yesterday. Ok I exaggerate, by 2025 or thereabouts, when the first Collins boat are due to retire, not a lot of lead time by naval procurement timelines actually. Lastly Australia is looking for a proven design, and that sole candidate came from an until recently unexpected source - Japan with her Soryu class ocean going fleet submarine with air-independent propulsion (AIP), quiet, big, lethal, in operation since 2009.

As an added bonus to the Aussies, the Soryu class SSKs have onboard the Sterling AIP engine made by Kockums AB / TKMS so in that sense there would be some continuity with the Collins class should the Soryu be chosen. Japanese? Hey, these guys were building fleet carriers during our grandfather's time.

The History of Submarine Building In Japan

Japan has a long history in submarine construction which started as far back as 1904 when 5 Holland  Class submarines were bought from the United States of America. They were originally built at the Fore River Ship and Engine Company in Quincy, Massachusetts and shipped to Yokohama in knock-down kit form from Seattle. They were assembled at the Yokosuka Naval Arsenal (横須賀海軍工廠), then Japan's largest naval shipyard, with the assistance of an American naval architect Arthur Leopold Busch.

The first Japanese submarine of the Holland Class, aka Type 1 Submarine ( 第一型潜水艦 Daiichi Gata Sensuikan ). Photo : Wikipedia
That same year, the Kawasaki Dockyard Company or Kawasaki Zosensho (川崎造船所) as it is known in Japanese, purchased modified plans of the Holland Class submarine from the designer John Philip Holland directly and went on to build 2 boats with the help of 2 American engineers who had been Holland's assistants.

The following year, Japan bought 2 British C class submarines from the shipbuilder Vickers, Sons and Maxim and went on to assemble another 3 from kits at the Kure Naval Arsenal, Kure Kaigun Kosho (呉海軍工廠), as it is known in Japanese. By 1909, Japan had launched her first submarine tender ( support / supply ship ) and had built a sizeable fleet of ocean going submarines before World War I had ended.

As one of the Allied victor countries at the end of World War I, Japan not only took control of the numerous German territories in the Southern Pacific like the Caroline Islands ( modern day Micronesia and Palau ) as mandated by the League of Nations, she was also given several captured German submarines as the spoils of war. This greatly accelerated her submarine design and building efforts and by the outbreak of World War II, the Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) would have the greatest variety of submarines available for all sorts of mission. From fleet submarines that could cross oceans to transport and supply submarines, mine laying submarines, even aircraft carrying monsters like the 6500 tonne I-400, midget submarines that are designed to infiltrate naval bases and harbours and eventually to suicide submarines like the Kaitens towards the end of the War.

Kaiten Type 1 human torpedo displayed at the Yasukuni War Memorial Museum in Tokyo. Kaiten (回天) literally means return to heaven but the name actually originated from an older man-of-war of the Edo era, a wooden steamer known as the Kaiten Maru (回天丸). Photo : Wikipedia 
The I-400 sea plane carrier submarine. Note the aft deck gun and the crane for lifting the Aichi M6A Seiran seaplane (see below). Photo : Wikipedia
The Aichi M6A1 Seiran (晴嵐) seaplane. The I-400 can carry 3 of these seaplanes internally. One of the M6A actually carried out a bombing raid on continental US, attempting to start a forest fire in Oregon by dropping incendiary bombs. Photo : Wikipedia
Following her defeat in World War II, the naval yards in Sasebo, Kure and Yokosuka were either converted to commercial entities or became facilities to support and maintain the ships of the US Navy and the newly formed Japan Maritime Self Defense Force (JMSDF), also known as the Kaijojieitai (海上自衛隊) in Japanese. There was a lapse of more than ten years where Japan did not build any submarines. That changed in 1957 when the first generation Oyashio (おやしお) class submarine was constructed by the Kawasaki Heavy Industries in Kobe based on the old IJN I-200 design and some US innovations.

SS-511 JDS Oyashio ( first generation ) : The first post war Japanese built submarine. Source : Wikipedia
Since then, there had been several successive generations of diesel-electric submarines constructed by Japan, including the Oshio class (1963), the Arashio class (1964), the Uzushio class (1968), the Yushio class (1976), the Harushio class (1987), the new generation Oyashio class (1994) and of course the latest Soryu class (2005) with air-independent propulsion.

The new generation Oyashio Class SSK currently in service with the JMSDF. Photo : JMSDF

The new generation Oyashio Class SSK performing the emergency main ballast blow maneuver. Photo : JMSDF 

The Soryu Class SSK

The Soryu class submarine is the latest generation of conventionally powered hunter killer submarine with air-independent propulsion built for the JMSDF. It has a displacement of 2900 tonnes surfaced and 4200 tonnes submerged, the largest displacement of any submarine used by post war Japan. Although all previous generations of JMSDF submarines have been named after ocean currents ( 潮 shio in Japanese means current ), the Soryu class breaks away from this half a century old tradition by being named after auspicious mythical creatures, some of which might include the dragon, the phoenix, the pheasant and the kirin. In this case, the entire class is named after dragons (竜 ryu).

SS-501 Soryu ( そうりゅう, in kanji 蒼竜 ) Blue Dragon
SS-502 Unryu ( うんりゅう, in kanji 雲竜 ) Cloud Dragon
SS-503 Hakuryu ( はくりゅう, in kanji 白竜) White Dragon
SS-504 Kenryu ( けんりゅう, in kanji 剣竜) Sword Dragon
SS-505 Zuiryu ( ずいりゅう, in kanji 瑞竜) Auspicious Dragon
SS-506 Kokuryu ( こくりゅう, in kanji 黒竜) Black Dragon
SS-507 Jinryu ( じんりゅう, in kanji 仁竜) Humane Dragon
SS-508 Sekiryu ( せきりゅう, in kanji 赤竜 ) Red Dragon  ( named on 2nd Nov 2015 )

SS-509 is under construction and yet to be named. SS-510 and SS-511 are planned. Now I am no naval historian or ship naming expert but if I were to hazard a guess, likely names for these future boats may include Shoryu (翔竜) Flying Dragon, same pronunciation but in different kanji character, Shoryu (祥竜) Blessed Dragon, Hiryu (飛竜) Soaring Dragon, Tenryu (天竜) Heavenly Dragon, Kairyu (海竜) Sea Dragon.

Update 7th Jan 2017 - SS-509 had been launched on 12th Oct 2016 and is named the Seiryu ( せいりゅう, in kanji 清瀧, after 清瀧権現 Seiryugongen, the guardian goddess of a Kyoto temple ). The character 清 means clear but could also mean pure. So Pure Dragon be it. Note that 竜 and 龍 both mean dragon and could be pronounced as ryu. With three additional dots used to denote something to do with water, 瀧 could mean water dragon but is much more commonly used in everyday life to mean a waterfall ( 瀧 or 滝 pronounced taki ). Confused? Nevermind, that's Japanese for you.

Update 8th Nov 2017 - SS-510 had been launched on 6th Nov at KHI's Kobe facilities. It was named Shoryu, blessed dragon. Shoryu is expected to enter service with the JMSDF in 2019.

Note that the name Soryu had previously been used on 2 predecessors, including the World War II Imperial Japanese Navy fleet carrier the IJN Soryu, which took part in the Pearl Harbour Raid in Dec 1941 and was sunk during the Battle of Midway in Jun 1942.

The Soryu Class SSK underway. It has a conning tower with a shape resembling that of the Virginia Class SSN, minus the hydroplanes. JMSDF Photo.

Third of class SS-503 JDS Hakuryu arriving at Joint Base Pearl Harbour - Hickam, Hawaii for RIMPAC exercises.
Photo : USN / Wikipedia
Soryu Class Characteristics

Length : 84m
Beam : 9.1m
Draught : 8.5m
Displacement : 2900 Tonnes Surfaced
                         4200 Tonnes Submerged
Propulsion : 2 x Kawasaki 12V 25/25 SB-type diesel engines
                    4 x Kawasaki Kockums V4-275R Stirling engines ( air-independent propulsion )
                    producing 3900hp surfaced and 8000hp submerged

Speed : 13 knots Surfaced
             20 knots Submerged

Range : Unpublished but estimated at 6100 nautical miles at 6.5knots with AIP

Operational Depth : Unpublished but estimated at 500m.

Complement : 65 ( 9 officers 56 enlisted )

Radar : ZPS-6F Navigation / Surface Search Radar

Sensors : Hughs/Oki ZQQ-7B Sonar Suite with
               1x Bow Array
               4x Low Frequency Flank Array       
               1x Towed Array

Countermeasures :

ZLR-3-6 electronic support measures (ESM) system
2x 3 inch Underwater Countermeasure Launcher Tubes for acoustic device countermeasures (ADCs).                      
Torpedo Countermeasure System (TCM) for SS-508 and later

Communications :

X-band High Speed Satellite Communications Device for SS-507 and later

Armament :

6 HU-606 21 inch ( 533mm ) torpedo tubes with 30 reloads for the following
Boeing UGM-84C Submarine Launched Harpoon SSM
Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Type-89 Heavy Weight Torpedo

Construction :

Kawasaki Ship Building Industries, Kobe (川崎造船 神戸工場)
Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Kobe (三菱重工業 神戸造船所)

SS-502 JDS Unryu being launched. JMSDF Photo.
The Soryu Class SSK in ceremonial light-up. JMSDF Photo. 

Soryu Class : A Formidable Naval Deterrence

The Soryu Class submarine is the world's largest submarine equipped with air-independent propulsion, and it has been in serial production since 2005, in other words, a well proven design. This represents a tremendous leap in capability for the JMSDF as they never had such AIP capable boats before. Collaborating with Kockums AB to licence produce the Stirling AIP engine was a smart move that allowed immediate access to a relatively risk-free proven technology. Kockum's proprietary Stirling Engine is a silent and vibration-free external combustion engine that had already been installed on the Gotland Class SSK and was also later retrofitted on the older Swedish Navy Vastergotland Class and Singapore Navy Archer Class SSK. The air independent propulsion system drastically reduces the need for frequent battery charging with the air breathing diesel generator which requires the submarine to be either surfaced or in snorkeling mode. It effectively increases the submerged endurance of the submarine and makes its detection much more difficult.

Its large displacement translates to having an extremely long range of close to 11000km, exactly what the JMSDF needs to patrol the vast open ocean between the Ryukyu Island Chain ( Okinawa ) and mainland Japan. For littoral operations, like patrolling the shallow Seto Inland Sea, the Soryu is fitted with an X rudder to provide high manoeuvrability to the submarine when operating very close to the seabed. This X rudder configuration was initially developed by Kockums for the Swedish A-19 Gotland Class SSK.

The X Rudder of SS-505 JDS Zuiryu seen clearly in this JMSDF photo.

Close-up view of the X rudder. Photo : Wikipedia

The quietness of the air-independent propulsion and the advanced sonar suite would allow the Soryu to stalk Chinese ballistic missile boats and SSKs with relative ease.

They are armed with Japan's Type 89 torpedo which is wire-guided with both active and passive acoustic homing modes and has very similar characteristics as the USN's Mk 48 ADCAP ( Advanced Capability ) heavyweight torpedo. With a diameter of 533mm, a length of 6.25m and a weight of 1760kg, this torpedo has a 267Kg High Explosive warhead. The effective range is said to be 27 nautical miles (nm) at 40 knots (kts) or 21 nm at 55 kts. The maximum speed is in the range of 70 kts and the operational depth is up to 900m.

These very same torpedo tubes can also launch the Boeing UGM-84L Harpoon Block II all weather, over the horizon, submarine launched anti-ship missile which also has a land attack capability. So the Block II Harpoon is essentially a cruise missile in disguise. It has a range of 124km and will post a serious threat to any Chinese or North Korean surface ship or land installations. It is guided by a GPS/INS unit and also has active radar terminal homing. The Block IIs being available to the USN since 1998, I am assuming that Japan has already either bought the newer version or had already upgraded her Block I Harpoons to Block II standard by now. South Korean certainly had!

The only glaring deficiency of the Soryu Class is the lack of Tomahawk tactical cruise missile launching capability. This is most likely a self-imposed limitation as the Post War Constitution forbids Japan from arming herself with offensive weapons.

RGM-84 the surface launched version of the Harpoon anti-ship missile being fired from the decks of the USN Arleigh Burke Class destroyer USS John S.McCain ( DDG-56). USN Photo

The First Post War Major Weapon System Export?

The 1947 Japanese Constitution is most famous for its renunciation for the right to wage war contained in Article 9. Its recent reinterpretation by the Abe government also allowed an easing of the self imposed blanket ban for arms export which had been enforced since 1976. It made possible the July 2014 agreement between Japan and Australia to partner on marine hydrodynamics ahead of a replacement for the Collins-class boats which quickly morphed into what might become an outright buy of 10 to 12 submarines from Japan.  If this export deal is realized, it would the first and most significant post war foreign military sales by Japan and is said to be worth about 20 billion dollars, hard cash which Japan desperately needs for rebuilding after the Tohoku earthquake and reforming to cater to a rapidly ageing population. It would also be a devastating blow to the Australian ship building industry who in my opinion really deserves losing the deal.

Although the Abbott government had previously said that the Collins replacements would be domestically built, consistent poor performance by the state-owned ASC on not only the entire Collins project and its subsequent upgrade works but also on the current Hobart Class air warfare destroyer project which is suffering from delays and huge cost overruns ( A$600 million over budget and 3 years late ), makes it much easier for them to justify an outright purchase from Japan.

Also, to have the Soryu built in Australia would incur a much higher cost, with some estimates at AS80 billion, almost double the original estimate of A$36 to A$44 billion. As Prime Minister Tony Abbott puts it, "The most important thing is to get the best and most capable submarines at a reasonable price to the Australian taxpayer". It would be really tragic if all that money is paid and the RAN gets another 12 Collins II instead. With the quest for precision and quality being almost a national obsession, you can be assured that anything that is made in Japan is nothing short of perfection. The Soryu Class will be no different. The Japanese worker takes tremendous pride in his work. The Aussies shall not regret that decision should Tony Abbott make that announcement by year end.

But all is not lost for the ASC. With the projected savings from buying directly rather than building domestically, there may be plans to fast track the Australian ship building industry by getting ASC to build new "super" frigates using the hull design of the 6500 tonne Hobart Class destroyer. ASC will likely get service and maintenance contract for the upkeep of the new boats.

The extra money saved could also be used to fund further purchase of the F-35 joint strike fighter which the Australian government had already pledged to buy. Another likely development could be the creation of a new submarine base, possibly at HMAS Coonawara in Darwin, New Territories, though I really do not know how *. With 12 boats projected, the current submarine base at HMAS Stirling in Perth, Western Australia will be swarmed. Having a northern base in Darwin will greatly reduce the transit time to the area of operations in South East Asia and the Australian East Coast.

Aerial view of HMAS Coonawara. Darwin City's CBD can bee seen in the background 2km away. RAN Photo.
* HMAS Coonawara is currently a small naval base supporting 8 Armidale Class patrol boats, within walkable distance of Darwin's central business district and close to the famous Doctor's Gully fish feeding attraction. The seabed will have to be dredged, the Larrakeyah Barracks and the marina next door will possibly have to be relocated to make way for the submarine pens.

Possible Modifications of the Soryu for SEA 1000

The operating range of the Collins Class SSK is in the region of 11830 nm (21000km) at a speed of 10.5 kts while that of the Soryu Class is about 6100 nm at 6.5 kts. The Aussies will likely want a bigger boat with longer range. The magnitude of increase may well be determined by whether a new submarine base is going to be built in Darwin.

The Aussies will also want "inter-operability" with their greatest ally the US Navy. So sensors and weaponry will have to be as identical as possible. The Type 89 torpedoes may have to give way to Mk 48 ADCAPs which the Americans use and which the RAN already has a stockpile of.

A Mark 48 ADCAP heavyweight torpedo being offloaded from the Los Angeles Class nuclear attack submarine USS Oklahoma SSN-723. USN Photo.
The ability to fire torpedo tube launched (TTL) Tomahawk Block IV cruise missiles on the Collins replacement could also be a likely modification. Unlike the Los Angeles Class Flight II boats and the follow-on improved Los Angeles Class boats which all have a 12 tube vertical launch system (VLS) for launching Tomahawk cruise missiles, the Soryu Class lacks such a capability. It would be expensive to integrate a VLS into a mature design if not technically difficult. Fortunately the TTL version exist and is currently used on the Royal Navy's Astute Class SSN.

Model of the Tomahawk Block IV tactical cruise missile. USN Photo.

Vertical Launch System (VLS) in the fore section of the Los Angeles Class nuclear attack submarine USS Santa Fe (SSN-763) Photo : USN
Final Words

The Collins project and the resulting 6 boats are a blemish to the proud reputation of Australian Navy and a disgrace to the entire ship building industry of Australia. It is a sad chapter in the long and illustrious history of the RAN that is best forgotten. The Australians should learn from their numerous mistakes committed in the past 2 decades and simply move on to the next chapter without making the same mistakes again. 12 boats sound like a huge fleet but I assure you it is not. Australia is Big, and the surrounding seas even BIGGER.

To Tony, please buy from the Japs, because if anything were to go wrong this time, it will be their problem, not yours.

To Abe the travelling salesman, you have done the sales pitch, please deliver well when the first order arrives, hopefully by Christmas. And may there be many more new orders for you to fulfill in the future.

Monday, 7 July 2014

Singapore Navy's New Submarines - HDW Type 218SG


RSN's Silent Service

The Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN) had been operating conventional diesel-electric submarines since 1995. Initially, as it was a completely new capability for a small navy, the RSN opted to purchase 5 decommissioned / used submarines from Sweden. These were the A-11 Sjöormen class submarines first commissioned in the late 1960s. Four of these boats were re-commissioned as the Challenger class and the fifth was to be salvaged for parts. They were extensively refurbished and upgraded by Kockums for use in tropical climate and came with personnel training agreements with the Royal Swedish Navy. They form the 171 Squadron based at Changi Naval Base.

The Challenger class submarines enabled the RSN to learn the trade of undersea warfare in an accelerated timeframe but they had one glaring shortcoming - they were not equipped with air-independent propulsion (AIP). AIP is simply an advanced underwater propulsion system in a non-nuclear submarine that did not involve access to atmospheric oxygen, eliminating the periodic need to surface or snorkel to recharge the batteries. ( see my previous blog AIP submarines for RSN )

In 2005 an opportunity to buy another 2 decommissioned submarines from Sweden came in the form of  two A-17 Vastergotland class boats. These were a generation newer than the Challenger class boats, having been launched in 1986 and 1987. They were extensively modified  and had their hulls sliced and lengthened to accommodate a proprietary Stirling AIP engine. They were eventually commissioned as the RSS Archer and RSS Swordsman.

RSS Archer during her launching ceremony in Sweden in June 2009. Source : Peter Nilsson Kockums AB.

The Stirling Conversion : From Vastergotland to Archer. Kockums picture


Submarine Shopping

Now that the submariners have honed their skills with AIP, it is time for the RSN to consider buying more potent and newer platforms. On 2nd Dec 2013 MINDEF made public the acquisition of 2 customized AIP capable submarines from ThyssenKrupp Marine System GmBH (TKMS). From the MINDEF press release " These submarines, together with the Archer class submarines, will replace the ageing Challenger class submarines. The Challenger class submarines were built in the 1960s and will be progressively retired from service. The replacement submarines will have significantly improved capabilities and be equipped with Air Independent Propulsion systems." With some background information, it would not be of too much a surprise that this time it would no longer be a Swedish design.

Boat Supplying Nations

There are not many countries that have the capability to design and build submarines. The United States have not looked back on conventional diesel-electrics ever since they commissioned the world's first operational nuclear submarine the USS Nautilus (SSN-571) in 1954. The Royal Navy similarly disposed off their Upholder class SSKs and are and all-nuclear force. What's left will be Germany, with their U-209s and U-214s, probably the largest exporter of conventional submarines in the free world, France, the supplier of Scorpenes, Spain, exporting their S-80 Scorpene variant, Sweden, with their ill-fated Collins-class project but enjoying better domestic success and in exporting to Singapore, and finally Russia, with the Project 636 improved Kilo class. Japan is just beginning to come online as a potential supplier, after ditching their post WWII pacifist Constitution. South Korea builds U-209s and U-214s under licence and exported a couple to Indonesia, and China builds but hardly exports. All said, if you are buying U-boats ( presumably non-nuclear ), your options are somewhat limited. If you are sourcing for nuke boats then your choice is simple, go to uncle Putin, but be warned, you can get badly mauled like India did with its yet to be delivered INS Vikramaditya ( ex-Admiral Gorshkov ) carrier.

The Boote Yards

Kockums AB's Karlskrona shipyard has been producing first rate submarines for Sweden since the 1912. Apart from the A-11 Sjöormen class and the A-17 Vastergotland class SSKs already mentioned above, they also constructed three A-19 Gotland class submarines with air-independent propulsion for the Swedish Navy in 1990. Their next generation offering is the A-26 submarine, originally scheduled to replace the Vastergotlands as they are retired in 2020.

In a series of miscalculations by the Swedish government, the fortunes of Kockums began to change around the turn of the century (1999 to be precise) where, in a complicated web of industrial merger and acquisition, Celsius AB sold its subsidiary Kockums AB to German ship builder Howaldtswerke-Deutsche Werft GmBH (HDW) in an all-share swap for 25% of HDW, with an option to exit the business with a lump sum. The following year, SAAB bought over most of Celsius AB and opted to be paid and exited. And so Kockums become a part of HDW and then HDW was itself acquired by ThyssenKrupp Marine System GmBH (TKMS) in 2005.

HDW is of course most famous for submarines - their U-205, U-206 and U-209 series conventional diesel-electric submarines are in active service in many navies all around the globe, not to mention the Dolphin Class variant for the Israeli Navy. Their latest offering is the U-212A and its export version the U-214.

TKMS is a huge German conglomerate and in addition to Kockums which it acquired through HDW, owns several other shipyards in Germany and Greece. It now has two competing lines of submarines to sell in a limited post-cold war global market and the number of submarine exports are just not enough to keep the yards busy. It does not help when many customers also insist on local construction and technology transfer. It just not possible to maintain both the German HDW and Swedish Kockums to compete against its rivals like DCNS of France and Rubin Design Bureau of Russia. Understandably TKMS would favour its German shipyards over the other foreign ones.

So when the time came for Singapore to replace her Challenger class submarines, Kockums, the exclusive supplier of submarines to the Republic of Singapore Navy for the past 18 years saw its monopoly broken and was prevented from submitting a bid by its parent company. Instead, TKMS offered HDW's U-218SG, to be built in its Kiel shipyard in northern Germany.

On a separate note, TKMS had also successfully stalled Kockum's next-gen A-26 AIP offering to the Swedish government which industrial insiders believe is delayed by contract negotiations between Kockums and Sweden's Defence Materiel Administration. The two parties simply cannot come to a price agreement.

Fortunately, this impasse may be about to change as Singapore's HDW purchase had finally whipped the Swedes into action to ( forcefully? ) buy back Kockums and regain control of their submarine building capability and put the A-26 acquisition back on tract. In what has come a full circle, on 29th Jun 2014 SAAB announced that it will buy Kockums back from ThyssenKrupp for SEK 340 million ( about USD 50.5 million) in a deal that is probably subsidized by the Swedish government. Still, the U-218SG purchase is a done deal and the A-26, severely undermined by ThyssenKrupp, will never be ready by 2020 even for its domestic client, the RSwN.

The Kockums next generation submarine the A-26 AIP that the RSN
was never meant to have in a computer generated image showing
 special forces deploy through the Multi-Mission Portal. Source : SAAB Kockums

The Mysterious U-218SG

All that we know about this submarine is that it is a customized design for Singapore. It is a conventional diesel-electric hunter-killer submarine with air-independent propulsion based on HDW's current designs, due for delivery in 2020. No other information is available in the public domain about this new boat. Unless you have insider information, right now everything is speculation.

Still, there is nothing to stop anyone from making an intelligent guess as to what this new submarine would turn out to be. A good start will be to understand Singapore's operational requirements and the currently available HDW U-boats designs.

The U-218SG will likely be involved in the following :

Anti-surface and anti-submarine operations

Special forces deployment

Unmanned vehicle deployment ( UUV and UAV )

Land attack missions with cruise missiles

Intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition and reconnaissance ( ISTAR )

Carrier battle group ( CVBG ) escort - future Endurance-160 type large helicopter / F-35B carrier

Singapore's existing Challenger and Archer class SSKs are in the 1200 to 1400 ton range and are really too small to cope with all of the above functions. Even the existing HDW options, the Type 212A built for the Deutsche Marine ( German Navy ) and the Marina Militare ( Italian Navy ), as well as the export version the Type 214 are all in the 1500 to 1700 ton range.

Unlike European navies who operate in the relatively smaller and shallower Baltic Sea, the Mediterranean Sea, North Atlantic Ocean and the North Sea, those in the Indo-Pacific region including Japan, South Korea, India and Australia would probably require bigger submarines with much longer range. The main role of the U-218SG will surely not be to play cat and mouse with the RMN in the narrow Straits of Malacca. It might have a bigger role in maintaining the SLOC open in the South China Sea and beyond, given the aggressive behavior of China in recent years. So it has to be bigger with a longer range and endurance. It also has to be faster, at least as fast as the carrier task group that it is supposed to protect. A bigger submarine will also have more space for more comfortable crew accommodation.

Fortunately HDW has exactly such a design concept in the form of the Type 216 AIP weighing in at 4000 ton. This is a double hulled two decked ocean-going monster was designed to fulfill the requirements for the Australian SEA 1000 Collins replacement project. However, it would be too big for the RSN if the design is adopted at face value. It would never safely transit the congested waters of the Straits of Singapore without being observed ( or bumped into )! So perhaps 2500 to 3000 tons would be a good compromise. A scaled down U-216 while retaining all the original bells and whistles. There is precedence in the Project Delta frigates - the Formidable class being an improved but smaller version of the La Fayette class stealth frigate.

The HDW U-216 SSK Source : ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems
This is the original U-216 technical specifications :

Length : approximately 90m

Pressure Hull Diameter : approximately 8.1m

Surface Displacement : about 4000 tons

HDW Fuel-cell Air-Independent Propulsion System

Lithium-Ion Polymer Battery Technology

HABETaS rescue system for personal rescue / free ascent at 300m

Endurance : 80 days at sea. 4 weeks without surfacing.

Range : 10000 nautical miles

Compliment : 33 officers and ratings. Extra capacity for divers and attached personnel

IDAS fibre-optic guided missile system for defense and attack against aerial targets ( ASW helos included )

Weapon Tubes : 6 x 533mm ( torpedoes, anti-ship missiles, mines, UUV? )

Vertical Launch System : Vertical Multi-Purpose Lock for launching cruise missiles

Torpedo Countermeasure System

Special Forces Swimmer Delivery Vehicle ( SDV )

In other words - the works. All that anybody could ask for in a submarine short of SLBM launch capability.

The innovative Interactive Defence and Attack System for Submarines (IDAS) is a
lightweight fibre-optic guided missile for submarines against aerial threats.
Photo : ThyssenKrupp Marine Syatems

The MdCN ( Missile de Croisiere Naval ) or naval cruise missile can be
launched from the torpedo tubes of a submarine. Source : MBDA

The MdCN, aka naval SCALP, can also be launched from the
A70 Sylver vertical launch system of France's FREMM frigates. Source : MBDA

Whatever the final specs are, it will be a huge step forward for the RSN. Retirement of the Challenger class submarines will transform RSN's silent service into an all-AIP force, just like the Swedes and the Germans. No ship lasts forever. If all goes well, tranche one will be followed with a subsequent order to eventually replace the Archer class possibly by the year 2025 - 2028. This article may be updated as more information is forthcoming.

Saturday, 5 July 2014

JMMS - Singapore's ( and South East Asia's* ) first Aircraft Carrier?

The Joint Multi-Mission Ship ( JMMS )

ST Marine Endurance-160 JMMS. Source : ST Marine


In his pre-SAF Day media interview 3 days ago, Singapore's Minister for Defence Dr Ng Eng Hen mentioned about the possibility of the RSN ( Republic of Singapore Navy ) acquiring a new class of large helicopter carrying support ship that could provide better aid during major humanitarian and disaster relief operations (HADR).

"While the Landing Ships Tank have served us (well), we are seriously considering a larger Joint Multi-Mission Ship (JMMS) that would have greater capacity and greater range to respond."
"When we responded to Typhoon Haiyan...the typhoon was so devastating that communications were knocked out."
"There was no centralised ability for command and control of the airspace. In that context, a ship like the JMMS would have been very useful."

The March 2011 earthquake and tsunami in the Tohoku region of Japan
destroyed entire towns as this scene in Ofunato, Iwate Prefecture
( 大船渡市, 岩手県 ) shows.
 Pretty nothing much is left standing after the double whammy
of earthquake and tidal wave. US Navy Photo.

So what exactly is a JMMS? To understand this ship, one has to go back to its precursor - the Endurance Class Landing Ship Tank.

The Endurance Class LST

RSS Persistence ( L-209 ) of the Republic of Singapore Navy. Photo : Wikipaedia

RSS Resolution ( LPDM 208 ) and USS Denver ( LPD 9 ) during
Ex Cobra Gold 2011. USN Photo

The ST Marine Endurance class Landing Ship Tank (LST) as the SAF calls it is actually not an LST! It should more accurately be described as an LPD - Landing Platform Dock in naval parlance. An LST is an amphibious transport ship that can beach itself and discharge its cargo of men and vehicles directly onto the beach head via a bow ramp. In contrast, an LPD has an internal well deck that can be flooded so that troops and vehicles can be transferred to the shore by landing crafts carried internally. It does not and cannot beach itself like an LST. Interestingly, ST Marine correctly labeled the Endurance Class as LPDs on their website. The following pictures shows how the well deck looks like and how crafts, vehicles and materials can be loaded and unloaded.

This is how a typical well deck looks like when dry. Japan Self Defense Force
vehicles line the well deck of the amphibious landing ship dock USS Tortuga ( LSD-46 )
16th Mar 2011 during relief operations in Northern Honshu. USN Photo


This is how it looks like from inside the well deck. A landing Craft Utility ( LCU )
enters the flooded well deck of the Wasp-class amphibious assault ship
USS Essex ( LHD-2 ). USN Photo

This is how the flooded well deck looks like from outside the ship.
The amphibious dock landing ship USS Gunston Hall ( LSD-44 ) transits
during wet well operations as part of landing craft utility ( LCU ) training and maintenance,
11th Apr 2014, Gulf of Oman. USN Photo.

Hovercrafts do not require a flooded well deck for entering an amphibious ship.
Landing craft Air Cushion ( LCAC ) 71 prepares to enter the well deck of the
San Antonio-class amphibious transport dock ship USS Mesa Verde ( LPD-19 )
23rd Mar 2014 in the Arabian Sea. USN Photo.


Here's another way of loading at sea without flooding.
Towed artillery being transferred from a landing craft utility ( LCU )
 into the lower vehicle area of the Austin-class amphibious transport dock ship
USS Denver ( LPD 9 ) in Okinawa, Japan 3rd Feb 2014. USN Photo.


The RSN used to operate 5 World War Two era ( think D-Day Normandy or Iwo Jima landings ) ex-US Navy County class LST since the 1970s. For more than 20 years they served as transports and training platforms especially for midshipmen ( naval officer cadets ). However, they had become harder and uneconomical to maintain with the passage of time and were eventually replaced by the indigenously designed and built Endurance class LPDs.

USS Holmes County ( LST 836 ), commissioned in 1944 and served
 in the Pacific Theatre during WWII, Korean War, Vietnam War and
was loaned to Singapore in 1971 and finally sold to Singapore outright in 1975.
 She was renamed RSS Endurance ( L-201 ),
 the first ship to bear that name in the RSN. Photo :


The Endurance Class - Specs and Capabilities

The Endurance class ships have a displacement of about 7600 tons, a length of 141m, a breath of 21m and a draft of 5m. They are capable of making 17 knots and have a maximum range of 5500 nautical miles. The aft helicopter deck can operate 2 medium-lift helicopters like the AS-332M Super-Puma simultaneously or 1 heavy-lift helicopter like the Boeing CH-47D Chinook. The internal well dock can hold 4 LCM / LCVP type landing crafts. The compliment is officially stated as 120 crew and 15 aircrew and each ship can carry in excess of 300 troops. They are armed with a 76mm OTO MELARA super rapid main gun, two 25mm M242 Bushmaster autocannons and 4 CIS 12.7mm heavy machine guns. Air defense is provided by Mistral missiles fired from two Simbad twin launchers.

RSS Resolution underway. Note the 76mm Oto Melara main gun. RSN Photo
RSS Endeavour during the Royal Australian Navy's International Fleet Review 2013
in Sydney. Note the bow doors. Wikicommons

RSS Endeavour entering Sydney Harbour during the
Royal Australian Navy's International Fleet Review 2013. Wikicommons


ST Marine has so far build 5 ships of this class, the first four, RSS Endurance, RSS Resolution, RSS Persistence and RSS Endeavour were commissioned between the years 2000 and 2001 for the RSN. The last ship HTMS Angthong was commissioned in 2012 for the Royal Thai Navy for a sum of SGD 200 million.

Royal Thai Navy's LPD 791 HTMS Angthong during
Cobra Gold 2016. Wikicommons

These LPD have since been actively involved with anti-piracy patrols in the Gulf of Aden and HADR missions in Aceh ( 2004 Boxing Day Tsunami ) and the Philippines ( Typhoon Haiyan ). They have proven themselves to be potent and capable platforms. Value-wise they also compare favourably with similar classed vessels from foreign navies like the LPD-17 San Antonio class which cost ten times as much to build ( to be fair these are 25000 ton vessels , 3 times bigger ) and yet still suffer from poor workmanship and many teething problems!

Anti-piracy duty : The aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush ( CVN 77 )
is underway with Singapore Navy tank landing ship
RSS Endeavour ( L210 ) in the Gulf of Aden 15th Nov 2011. USN Photo

The Endurance Family

ST Marine's website touts 3 different configurations for the Endurance type support ship. The Endurance-120, the Endurance-140 and finally the Endurance-160 based on the length of the ship. So the RSS Endurance which measures 141m belongs to the Endurance-140 sub-type and as far as anyone is aware this is the only type that has been built by ST Marine. The 120 and 160 are simply options for export or future consideration.

The Endurance-class LPD brochure from ST Marine

The Endurance 120, 140 and 160. Image : ST Marine

Apart from the length, the main difference between the Endurance-120 and the Endurance-140 is the load capacity. So the 120 is a miniature version of the 140 that carries only one medium-lift helicopter and less landing crafts and less troops.

The Endurance-160 however, is a different kettle of fish. It is only 20m longer but is twice as big as the Endurance-140 in terms of tonnage - in the 14500 ton range. It has a through flight deck that can accommodate five helicopters and an island superstructure that immediately screams "Helicopter Carrier". The top speed is increased to 22 knots and its range listed as 7000 nautical miles. It has a well deck and carries landing crafts just like her smaller siblings. Since 2010, ST Marine has been showcasing scaled models of this ship at major defense exhibitions like the Singapore Airshow but there has been no foreign or domestic sales so far. The equivalent USN designation would be Landing Helicopter Dock ( LHD) and a good example would be USS Wasp ( LHD-1 ) class amphibious assault carriers, though these are 40000 ton monsters.

USS Bonhomme Richard ( LHD 6 ), a Wasp-class amphibious assault ship transits
the East China Sea 22nd Apr 2014. Sailors and Marines onboard conducted
SAR operations at the Korean ferry disaster site near Jindo Island. USN Photo


The Multi-Role Assault Carrier

So what value can an amphibious assault carrier add to a small navy like the RSN? After all you cannot possibly be assaulting your neighbour's beach all the time, can you? Though I must say the temptation would certainly be there especially if your neighbour is intent on reclaiming land and creating new beach heads near your maritime boundary all the time. 
First, let's get the records straight. An amphibious assault ship is an offensive weapon system and is not used for defense. Its main role is that of force projection over the seas and across the surf zones to land an amphibious force onto a beach head as efficiently as possible. Depending on the aviation assets embarked ( AH-64D Apache gunship ), it may even provide fire support for the landing force.

It can be a platform for airborne mine countermeasures missions, again if there are helicopters like the MH-53E Sea Dragon embarked.
Last but not least, it can also potentially be a potent anti-submarine platform as long as the appropriate mix of ASW helicopters are carried.
At the same time, the very characteristics that enable an amphibious assault ship to provide good support to an amphibious landing on a hostile beach also makes it an ideal platform for a HADR mission. The large capacity for cargo means more relief supplies can be carried. Heavy vehicles and mechanized equipment can be embarked and disembarked with relative ease. A large warship also tends to have more advanced communications suite and can be used as a command and communications centre for the relief mission. Its medical and surgical facilities can provide treatment to those in need. Most importantly its fleet of medium and heavy-lift helicopters can provide sustained airlift capabilities when roads and airfields are completely destroyed in major disasters.
However, HADR missions, although they are becoming increasing common for the Singapore Armed Forces, can never be the main justification for acquiring a new capability as major as an assault carrier. You will be silly to spend several hundred million dollars on a ship just to play the Good Samaritan and be in the good books of your neighbours! So the real motive or rationale for having a helicopter carrier is still not immediately obvious to the public but perhaps one could speculate? Could this be a respond to the increasingly aggressive and belligerent behavior of China in the South China Sea?


The South China Cauldron

The South China Sea is a hugely volatile area with many Pacific Rim nations having claims on its numerous shoals and island groups. The Spratly Islands for example, is simultaneously claimed by China, Taiwan, Malaysia, Vietnam, Philippines and Brunei. Until not so long ago, regional powers have largely played by the rules and avoided serious armed confrontations. The rise of China as an economic and military power in recent years have changed the status quo. Having utterly modernized its airforce and navy and with the commissioning of a brand new aircraft carrier the Liaoning, China has upped the ante by unilaterally declaring an air defense identification zone ( ADIZ ) over the East China Sea and have been seen engaging in thuggish behavior like fire control radar locking on a Japanese ship, ramming a Vietnamese patrol boat, spraying water cannons on fishing vessels, blockading Pilipino resupply ships from relieving an island outpost, buzzing Japanese aircrafts and intrusions into Japanese airspace to test their scrambling response etc. Although Singapore does not have any territorial disputes with any country in the South China Sea ( not counting Pedra Branca as the dispute has been settled in the ICJ in Singapore's favour ), any escalation of tension in the region will still disrupt trade and communications, thus potentially threatening its independence and survival.  

How To Tame A Dragon

So what could be done about China who is blatantly disregarding international norms and law? What if China claims the entire South China Sea as its own and restrict passage? Even the combined forces of all ten ASEAN nations is probably no match for China. And please do not put too much hope with the new Japanese not so pacifist Constitution as it does not really change anything. The US is not too keen to get involved in anybody's business nowadays and would be more than happy to lead from behind. Obama took more than a year before reaffirming that the US would come to Japanese aid should her territories be violated. Further afield nothing was done when Crimea was taken from Ukraine except sanctions and more useless sanctions. All this means that you can't really depend on others to protect you when shit hits the ceiling ( and why should they? ). At the end of the day, it still pays to be self-sufficient, whether in defense, resources or other things.




How about a light aircraft carrier capable of carrying half a squadron of F-35B Lightning II stealth fighters? That surely would be a game changer. Dr Ng was referring to an Endurance-160 type helicopter carrier in his pre-SAF Day speech and he did mention that SAF is still in the preliminary feasibility stages and the design has not been finalized. Now it would not need too much imagination to think that what if an Endurance-180 or better still an Endurance-200 type hull be acquired and you can have instead a light aircraft carrier like the Giuseppe Garibaldi shown below?
Italian light aircraft carrier Giuseppe Garibaldi with AV-8 Harrier
STOVL jets and helicopters on the flight deck. Wikipaedia
The short take-off and vertical landing (STOVL) version of the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) designated the F-35B needs 168m of real estate for take-off. Less if a ramp is available. So a 25000 ton Endurance-200 could well be constructed to be able to embark more than just five helicopters and a ramp could be included in the design for fixed-wing operations. A large hangar bay would have to be included in the design, together with bigger aircraft elevators and most importantly, a jet blast proofed flight deck. Nobody would want a repeat of what the brand new USS America is going through - 40 weeks of additional yard time for modifications to the flight deck because it could not withstand the heat from the F-35B, an aircraft it was originally designed to operate! Of course the F-35B is currently not quite yet ready for mass production but it would hopefully be ready when the Endurance-200 is commissioned.  

A F-35B Lightning II lands aboard the amphibious assault ship
USS Wasp ( LHD 1 ) during the second at-sea F-35
developmental test event, Atlantic Ocean, 14th Aug 2013. USN Photo.


F-35B Joint Strike Fighter aircraft BF-3 with inert AIM-9X sidewinder missiles
over the Atlantic test range Sep 2012. The F-35B variant is designed
for the US Marine Corps as well international partners including the UK and Italy
and is capable of short take-offs and vertical landings to enable
air power projection from amphibious ships, ski-jump aircraft carriers
and expeditionary airfields. USN Photo

F-35B of Air Test and Evaluation Squadron VX-23 during the
first ever ski jump launch of the JSF at NAS Patuxent River
19th Jun 2015. Wikicommons

The U.S. Navy amphibious assault ship USS America (LHA-6)
conducts flight operations off the coast of Southern California (USA)
during the ship's recertification of the flight deck after
completing a 10-month Post Shakedown Availability (PSA). USN Photo.

HMS Invincible ( R-05 ) of the Royal Navy, now decommissioned,
with her Ski-jump ramp for STOVL fixed wing operations in 2005
during the 200th Anniversary of the Battle of Trafalgar celebrations. Wikipaedia

MV-22 Ospreys : Having a couple of these folding wing tilt-rotors
will be really NICE. The amphibious assault ship USS Boxer ( LHD 4 )
is underway during Ex Dawn Blitz 2013. USN Photo.

With her air bases easily within artillery range from her closest neighbors ( both Malaysia and Indonesia possess the Astros II multiple launch rocket system ), an added benefit of having a carrier for Singapore would be that of mitigating the effectiveness of a pre-emptive strike from taking out the entire air force.


CVBG - Carrier Battle Group

We are all aware that aircraft carriers are high value targets and they never operate alone. Therefore with the Endurance-200, more frigates, corvettes and submarines will be required to form its protection group. Oilers and supply ships will be needed too. Most of these assets the RSN already owns or is in the process of acquiring, like the Type 218SG hunter killer submarine with air-independent propulsion, scheduled for delivery in the year 2020.
When that happens, Singapore will be the first in the region to have an operational aircraft carrier battle group and the RSN will be transformed into a true Blue Water Navy, offering credible deterrence to any nation intent upon disrupting her sea lines of communications (SLOC). I suspect it would be named RSS Singapura or perhaps RSS Temasek, because, why would anyone want to name a capital vessel after some nondescript province or some peasant ward??!

* Not counting the Thai-tanic HTMS Chakri Naruebet which, in 1999, barely 2 years after commissioning, had only one serviceable Matador ( Harrier VTOL ) to play with, and none after 2006.