Saturday, 25 May 2019

Multi-Role Combat Vessel : Singapore's Next Generation Surface Combatant

Source : MINDEF

In the good old days not too long ago, naval vessels were designed, constructed and deployed for specific tasks. A minelayer would do pretty nothing else but lay mines, a corvette would be primarily for escort duties while frigates were responsible for anti-submarine operations and so on and so forth. It was not uncommon for a navy to own multiple asset types corresponding to the various aspects of naval warfare.

However, the increasing complexity of modern day naval operations coupled with escalating procurement costs and shrinking defense budgets have paved the way for the emergence of the multi-role vessel, a multi-tasking ship that can take on various missions on demand.

For the Republic of Singapore Navy ( RSN ), this trend has already been demonstrated in its Formidable-Class stealth frigates which were equipped for anti-surface, anti-submarine and anti-air warfare. The newer Independence-Class littoral mission vessels ( LMV ) took the multi-role concept even further with their modular mission configurable designs and the innate ability to deploy unmanned systems.

With its long serving Victory-Class missile corvettes ( MCV ) close to their end-of-life, the RSN had announced that they will be replaced by a new vessel type known as the Multi-Role Combat Vessel ( MRCV ) by the year 2030. Little had been revealed from the official channels apart from the fact that the MRCV can be mission configured for anything from high-end warfare to security operations and even humanitarian assistance and disaster relief. It will be a mothership of sorts for an entire range of airborne, surface and underwater unmanned systems. Its design takes into consideration the short innovation cycles in unmanned systems and it will be able to take on new capabilities easily as new technology emerges. MINDEF's infographic illustration of the MRCV seem to suggest a frigate-like vessel with stealth features equipped with vertical-launch system and a helicopter deck.

At the recently concluded IMDEX Asia 2019, at least two possible MRCV candidates have emerged, the Crossover 131 Combatant from Damen Shipyards Group and the Vanguard 130 from ST Engineering. These designs offer a first glimpse of how the future MCV replacements might look like and if I read the lines correctly, they scream "destroyers".

Vanguard 130

In conjunction with IMDEX 2019 Singapore's ST Engineering unveiled a new family of surface combatants known as the Vanguard series comprising of five different classes that share common hull forms. From the company brochures : The design concept centers on a single design that can be applied across multiple classes with modular capabilities. It also allows commonalities such as scalable hull forms, machinery and equipment, system and layout designs, standards for outfitting and installation, to be applied across the various vessel classes which can translate to higher cost efficiencies.

Ships from the Vanguard series can be configured as the Vanguard 80 Patrol Vessel, the Vanguard 95 Naval Research and Support Vessel, the Vanguard 105 Offshore Patrol Vessel, the Vanguard 120 Frigate and finally the Vanguard 130 Multi-role Combatant.

Under this multi-role capability profile, the Vanguard series aims to offer highly operable platforms in high states for the stowage and operation of unmanned systems and vehicles for enhanced reach and visibility.

A quick look at the five members of the Vanguard series would tell you it's the Vanguard 130 Multi-role Combatant, the biggest and most capable ship in the series that fits the MRCV description most. At 130 meters it will already be significantly larger than the Formidable-class frigate and it has to be in order to accommodate all those unmanned systems and perhaps even landing crafts and when required, additional personnel such as special forces. A company spokesman mentioned in an interview by Naval News that the Vanguard 130 will be in the 5000 ton range.

Source : ST engineering

The Vanguard series. Source : ST engineering

The Damen Crossover 131 Combatant. Source : Damen

Crossover 131 Combatant

The Crossover series of multi-role vessels has been offered by Damen Shipyards Group since 2014. They are very similar in concept with the Vanguard series focusing on producing highly customizable multi-mission capable naval vessels that can at the same time be self-sustaining, self-reliant, and has a high degree of survivability even in high threat environments. Damen claims that its experience in the clever application of a mix of commercial and naval standards and specifications results in the required naval quality and systems characteristics in its end products but yet support costs can be kept low through competitive pricing and the use of commercial off-the-shelf solutions whenever possible.

The entire family comprises of the Crossover 115 Security, the Crossover 123 Fast Security, the Crossover 131 Logistic, the Crossover 131 Amphibious, the Crossover 131 Combatant and the Crossover 139 Fast Combatant. The version that Damen intended to offer for the MRCA competition is the Crossover 131 Combatant. It has a length of 131 meters, a displacement of 5300 tons, a maximum speed of 28 knots, a compliment of between 108 -125 men and the capability to accommodate an additional 128 personnel.

MRCV Likely Key Features

From bits and pieces of information and images here and there, we can now have some idea of how the MRCV might end up resembling. These are of course speculative at best. The project is not even at the RFI stage yet.

5000 ton class
Conventional hull form with helicopter deck for a medium-lift helicopter
Mission deck / well deck for launching landing crafts
Stealth features
Advanced sensor suites - integrated mast with phase array radar, electro-optical sensors
Advanced ship management systems
Advanced weapons suites - ASuW, ASW, AAW
High efficiency in unmanned systems deployment
Multi-mission capable with swappable modules

What kinds of unmanned vehicles are likely to be deployed from the MRCV? ST Engineering's stable of UUV and USV will give us some ideas.

The Mercury Autonomous Underwater Vehicle can map the seabed
for mine detection. Source : ST Engineering

Venus Unmanned Surface Vehicle. Source : ST Engineering

SAAB Skeldar V-200 VTOL UAV. Source : SAAB

Boeing / Insitu Scaneagle UAV which is already equipping the Victory-class MCV.
Source : Boeing


The mission capabilities and dimensions of both the Vanguard 130 and the Crossover 131 Combatant do make them fit the description of a destroyer closer than those of a frigate. In reality though it can be near impossible to distinguish a small destroyer from a large frigate based on features alone.

Calling the next generation Victory-class replacement the Multi-Role Combat Vessel is an accurate functional description and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. It could however hide the fact that the RSN is quietly upgrading its capabilities in a huge way. This is not at all surprising given the fact that Singapore's neighbours have been expanding their naval fleets in an even bigger manner. For example Indonesia has commissioned two Sigma 10514 stealth frigates within the past 5 years with four more planned. It has also recently placed an order for three more Nagapasa-class submarines from South Korea, on top of the first three that has been delivered or launched. The Malaysian Navy meanwhile will be receiving their Littoral Combat Ships and their Littoral Mission Ships beginning from 2019.

There exists many instances of other navies misrepresenting ship classes to downplay the true capabilities. The Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force classifying the Izumo-class helicopter carrier a helicopter destroyer ( DDH ) is a prime example. Perhaps Singapore is just trying not to fuel the flames of a regional naval arms race further.

And why might the RSN need destroyers? Well to protect the future Joint Multi-Mission Ship, of course. Aircraft / helicopter carriers never operate alone, and I am certain the MRCV will have an important role in a carrier battle group. Tell me I am wrong.


  1. I don't see the MRCV as a destroyer though. I feel that with its role being multi role, it's firepower is same as a frigate like the formidable. I can think of more VLS that can carry like 40 silos compared to 32 on the formidable. Question is will they stick to the Aster 15s or jump to the 30s or a mixed of both like a multi layer air defence the RSAF adopts in protecting the nation's airspace. The gun is propably the sane 76mm but i believe it can carry a 128mm of i remember seeing one correctly. They are still sticking to the harpoons in the model. I do not know where will ASM is headed. We got the LRASM by LM and the NSM by Kongsberg. I am wondering what the naval planners are thinking for ASM? The harpoons are getting obsolete as the days go by. Even the latest Block 2 ER may not be effective for long. That is if who the peers are? Are well developed navy or those poorly managed? ASW is just the usual torpedos lol. Not much change there. I would see a destroyer as one that has serious firepower where it carries cruise missiles. Land attack, anti ship. With 2 VLS like the U.S. Arleigh Burke. Does cruise missile determines one to be a destroyer? I really dont know. Maybe it is good if you could make an article on the ships designation. The lines have blurred as we mixed traditional naval terms with more modern cool naming conventions.

  2. Dear Benjamin, it is always a pleasure to read your comments. Destroyers and frigates are just terminologies that we use to classify warships. In a modern navy both types have very similar functions and it can be hard to distinguish one from the other. I personally feel that the MRCV could eventually turn out to be more like a destroyer based on the projected tonnage and also the RSN's long history of huge capability gains with every platform replacement. Bear in mind that the Victory-class displaces 583t so the MRCV is nearly 10 times bigger. It is really too early to know what ship systems might be selected but I believe the MRCV will be way ahead of the Formidable-class frigates. A bigger ship is more likely to accommodate strike-length VLS for land attack cruise missiles. You are absolutely right to say that the Harpoon missile is facing obsolescence but the LRASM is relatively new and currently only available to the USAF and USN and it requires the Mk41 VLS. The NSM is promising and has already been selected by Malaysia for its SGPV-LCS. And no the capability to carry and fire cruise missiles does not make a warship a destroyer. In Oct 2015 three Project 21631 Buyan-M missile corvettes and one Gepard-class frigate of the Russian Caspian Sea Fleet launched 26 Kalibr ( SS-N-27 Sizzler ) land attack cruise missiles at terrorist targets in Syria some 1500km away. At 949t the Buyan-M is really just a corvette but one that punches above its weight.

  3. Thanks for clarification. I like the LRASM. Sounds promising just wondering how much does 1 missile cost. Defitnely a lot more. The NSM is a decent missile but i wonder is it good enough when it comes to dealing with bigger targets that can take heavier punishments. The biggest mystery is would cruise missiles be incorporated onto the MRCV. Part of me thinks that it won't be carrying any cruise missiles. Finding the type of cruise missiles is one issue. The other is finding sufficient space to house them. I do not think that the MRCV has any room left for cruise missiles with the focus of being a mothership for unmanned systems being there. Lastly is of course the balance or shift of power. I can't say what will happen in 7 years time. What the capability of regional navies will be like. Having a cruise missile as part of your arsernal is a indeed a game changer but also a change of your stance in the region.

    1. The NSM was designed by Kongsberg together with the Royal Norwegian Navy, they started lining down the requirement during the "cold war era",during that periode Norway had problems with the Russian/Soviet Navy with ships like Kirov class. NSM have a tungsten warhead + it have an intelligent computer systems, giving it capability that is unique. it can recognize targets, see difference between civil and military ships, plan how it want to attack, and where it want to attack to give as much damage as possible. and if you send a group of NSM out after a target, it will plane a way to attack the target from multiple direction including sacrificing one missile as a decoy. And lately they have given NSM a surface to land capability, something it have shown to do 100% perfect, since it's already have an adaptively flight path system and are designed to fly over and around the Norwegian coast and mountains. There's a reason US-Navy have starte to equip there ships with NSM, due it's the only 5th-generation missile out there. rest of them is just 4th gene or 4th gen.improved.

      Since the missile was designed as an missile that can go up against the big Russian ships....

    2. Thanks for the info Henrik.

  4. The LRASM is actually an urgent operational stop gap measure to address the Harpoon's obsolescence. It is derived from the extended range version of the JASSM and is sub-sonic. Unit cost is USD 3.44 million based on the USAF purchase of 50 LRASM ( Lot 2 production ) for USD 172 million in late 2018. Watch out for its successor from the Offensive Anti-Surface Warfare ( OAsuW )Increment 2 program which is projected to enter service in 2024. Sale of weapon systems with advanced technology or strategic implications are always subject to the approval by Congress. So such newfangled toys may not yet be sold, even when the closest of allies made the request.

  5. How about Gabriel V Advanced Naval Attack Missile? It’s designed To operate in congested waters and seemed to suitable in local waters

  6. If it is good enough for the Finns and the Baltic Sea, it will be probably be good enough for the congested waters around Singapore.

    1. Agreed but knowing how the SAF thinks, i am sure they would look beyond the congested waters around Singapore.

      A bit of an off topic here. I have been reading alot about the Philippine Navy's new frigate. Alot of issue with the entire program. Faults in the frigate caused by both sides. It reminds me of those older posts you wrote about certain countries troubled military developments. Their mistakes, the factors that come into play. Felt like a documentary where it is like an investigation which led to the eventual outcome. Would you consider posting about the sad story of Jose Rizal Class Frigate? How it was envisioned to be a frigate on par with regional navies only to end up with the capabilities of an OPV or a Corvette? A good lesson and reminder.

    2. The BRP Jose Rizal will still be a respectable modern frigate with its finalized ship systems though the entire procurement process left much to be desired and involved political meddling and possibly corruption. Another sad story is the Gagah Samudera class training ships of the RMN. I have so little time ....

    3. Well that depends. Fit for but not equipped with is what they are saying. Whether it will see through its full potential is a matter of time.

    4. SAF day interview with defence minister Dr. Ng Eng Hen. All the updates in the video.


      Another step closer in getting the F35s specifically the B. No mentioning of the A. Very interesting

  7. Chop chop another development for the Singapore Armed Forces or more specifically the Armouted Formation of the Army.

    The Next Generation Armoured Fighting Vehicle (NGAFV) was commissioned today as it also marks the Armour Formation's 50th anniversary. The name given shall be called hunter. A bit of a "like real" moment for me when i found out its name. Kinda simple but still fitting i guess. What i like is the ARTHEMIS system it has so i guess a bit fitting to link a goddess that hunts to the hunter. Other variants of the hunter were also mentioned

    Anyways here is a link to a blogpost by the local defence blogger David Boey on the Vehicle.

    1. Now i'm wondering myself what announcements will there be for the upcoming SAF Day on July 1st. Im thinking the defence minister will propably just give updates and sum up on the developmets like the A330mrtt, Aster 30 which has been here last year, the near completion of the LMVs, Hunter, commisioning of the first type 218sg subs, he might talk about the F 35s as it was announced earlier this year that we have selected it and will purchase a small no. for evaluation. Other than that he will propably just mentioned the H225m and CH 47F and maybe on the MRCV.

      The next army development is going to be the Advance Mobile Gun System (AMGS) that will be replacing the FH2000s Hotwizer.

    2. David gave an extremely detailed account of the Hunter AFV. Even the official MINDEF announcement did not mention that the ATGM selected was the Spike. Privileged information for defense reporters.

    3. It is kind of expected for me. It is afterall the Army's anti tank weapon of choice. They use the SR and LR version if im not mistaken. Deployed by the soldier and the LSV Mk2. First time they are equiping it on an AFV. Other reason is simply because the turret is israeli.

  8. Caught some old news. November last year during the navy's mini open house(that's what i call it) at vivo city.
    The RADM was interviewed regarding the MRCVs. He gave a timeframe