|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".
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
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
MRCV or DDG
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.