Tuesday, 19 February 2019

Invincible : Singapore's Type 218SG Submarine

Launching of the RSN's first Type 218SG submarine in Kiel, Germany. Photo : TKMS

Singapore's Type 218SG submarines have now been named. The first-of-class has been christened RSS Invincible at the launching ceremony in Kiel, Germany on 18th Feb 2019. The names of the sister submarines has also been revealed as RSS Impeccable, RSS Illustrious and RSS Inimitable. Invincible and Illustrious are rather common names for warships especially those of the Royal Navy. In the past three centuries or so at least 12 ships share these two names alone. Impeccable though is a name I like better. There has only been one other warship named Impeccable in history - a WWII minesweeper of the US Navy. The last name Inimitable really stumbled me. I had absolutely no idea what it meant until I did a quick search. It meant not capable of being imitated or matchless - a perfect name for the most advanced submarine of the Republic of Singapore Navy. So far I do not believe there is another warship with a similar name.


The Invincible-class Submarine

The TKMS / HDW Type 218SG is a new class of diesel-electric attack submarine custom designed for the RSN. Its design combines the best features from TKMS's Type 212A and the much larger Type 216 with special emphasis on operations in tropical climates and littoral environments typical of the seas around Singapore.

The Type 218SG has a surface displacement of 2000 tonnes and a submerged displacement of 2200 tonnes. It measures 70 meters in length and has a beam of 6.3 meters. It is equipped with TKMS's proprietary fuel cell air-independent propulsion system which means it has a much longer underwater endurance compared with non-AIP capable boats. Its combat system is jointly designed by Atlas Electronik and ST Electronics. The latest MINDEF news release indicated that it will have 8 torpedo tubes. It will have a compliment of 28 officers and ratings. Beyond this, there is little else revealed in the public domain regarding the other features of the Type 218SG.

The cost of the first two boats ordered in 2013 was said to be €1.6 billion, inclusive of logistics and training. A follow-on order of 2 additional submarines was announced in 2017. These 4 new submarines will eventually replace the existing four ageing submarines operated by the RSN one for one. More on the Type 218SG could be read in my previous blogs here and here.

The Type 218SG Submarine screen-grabbed from the RSN
promotional video.

Cut-away diagram of the Type 218SG SSK. Source MINDEF Singapore

RSN's Shopping Spree

In a departure from its usual ultra-cautious, perhaps conservative and value-seeking approach to weapons and platform acquisition, the RSN has seemingly disinhibited itself this time and had ordered a total of four brand new submarines in a matter of four years!

Bearing in mind that all of its previous submarine purchases were much older boats already decommissioned by the Swedish Navy, the initial buy involved just one Challenger-class ( Ex-Sjoormen ) submarine in 1995 followed by three more of the same class in 1997. In 2005, a rare opportunity for the RSN to expand its submarine fleet presented itself when the Swedish Navy decided to retire two of its Vastergotland-class submarines. They were eventually acquired by the RSN and were retro-fitted with AIP engines to become the Archer-class.

The act of buying brand new submarines from Germany in 2013 therefore represented a paradigm shift as the RSN's submarine force matured over the years. It is no longer learning and exploring about submarine operations in old boats but instead would be entering a new phase of capability enhancement with the latest and the best technology that the market could offer. Not only that, it will also have the submarines customized to its exact operational requirements, with special emphasis on safety and a high degree of automation.

 Is this latest submarine procurement by the RSN surprising? Well, yes and no ...

Invincible-class is highly customized for the RSN. Source : MINDEF


Untested New Platform

What was surprising to me was the speed of procurement, especially the placement of the second order before the first one was completed. This is potentially a concern when dealing with a new design that has yet to prove its worth. Nobody would dispute that TKMS has a wealth of experience when building conventional diesel-electric submarines. In fact, it could be considered the leader and is probably the top exporter of submarines with its Type 209 / 212 /214 series of SSKs.

However, the Type-218SG although based on reference designs of the Type-212A and the Type-216, is at the end of the day, still a new and unproven custom design. Many things could look good on paper but still go terribly wrong after being constructed. Remember the Royal Australian Navy's ill-fated Collins-class fleet submarines? Kockums AB was an experienced designer and builder too ... . I know, I know, Singapore did not insist on building them locally which is a smart decision that significantly lowered the risks of failure. Lowered but not removed.

I would have thought that the RSN would take delivery of the first two Type-218SG boats and would have made a thorough validation operationally before deciding on a follow-on order for more. It now seems that the top brass is in a hurry to get things done, perhaps for reasons that are yet unknown to us.

Singapore's Minister for Defence Dr Ng Eng Hen in front of the
Type-218SG Model at IMDEX 2017. Source : MINDEF

Model of the Type-218SG at IMDEX 2017. Source : MINDEF

Arms Race In The Western Pacific

On the other hand, this rapid renewal of the RSN's submarine force is not at all surprising given the geopolitical situation in the Western Pacific. Partly triggered by China with its aggressive island grabbing and area denial antics in the South China Sea and East China Sea, the countries around the Western Pacific Rim are all ramping up their military capabilities. After all, it had been estimated that about 800 vessels would be added to the fleets of the regional navies between now and the year 2030. China alone would account for the lion's share of these new warships. The PLAN seemed to have an endless supply of advanced frigates, destroyers, submarines, amphibious landing ships and now even aircraft carriers are being commissioned into service. Although Singapore is not a claimant in any of the disputed South China Sea territories, its survival as a maritime trading nation is entirely dependent on open and assessable sea lines of communication such that the constant flow of goods and materiel is not interrupted. Maintaining a strong submarine fleet is probably the most cost effective way to deter any foreign power from unilaterally imposing sea denial antics against legitimate international marine traffic.

 Transformation To An All-AIP Force

The Royal Swedish Navy was the first to have an all-AIP submarine fleet when they upgraded two of  their ageing A-17 Vastergotland-class submarines to be AIP-capable, re-commissioning them as the Sodermanland-subclass between 2003 and 2004. Together with three newer A-19 Gotland-class SSKs which were designed with organic AIP-capabilities, the RSwN had achieved a world's first.

The German Navy later achieved the same distinction by 2011 as it retired its older Type-205 and Type-206A boats retaining only its fleet of six AIP-capable Type-212A submarines.

Similarly, the RSN will be on track to operating an all-AIP submarine force in the near future with the delivery of the first two Type-218SG submarines and the foreseeable decommissioning of the last two non-AIP Challenger-class boats that are currently still in active service.

RSS Swordsman ( Archer-class ) at Changi Naval Base during IMDEX 2017.
The ship in the background is JMSDF's helicopter destroyer DDH-183 JS Izumo
which was there for the International Maritime Review. Photo : RSN 

 Pre-Commissioning Unit Invincible

I know this is USN lingo for a ship under construction prior to official commissioning but it is a convenient term to use. Now that the RSS or should we say PCU Invincible has been launched, what next?

The launching of a ship or boat is a great milestone in its construction but there will still be lots of work to be done. There will be sensor suites and weapon suites integration by the various vendors and then there will be sea trials and acceptance trials before delivery and final commissioning into active service.

If all goes according to plan, RSS Invincible would be delivered sometime in 2021 while the second submarine would be delivered in 2022 and the rest from 2024 onwards. In the mean time, the four existing submarines of the RSN, RSS Archer, RSS Swordsman, RSS Conqueror and RSS Chieftain will have to soldier on for a few more years, silently safeguarding the sea lines from beneath.

You can watch the official MINDEF video on the launching ceremony of the RSS Invincible below.


Here's a link to an interesting blog about the possible capabilities and missions of the Invincible-class SSK.

Minister for Defense Dr Ng Eng Hen at the launching ceremony
of RSS Invincible. Source : TKMS

The champagne for christening the boat. Source : TKMS 
Minister for Defense Dr Ng Eng Hen and wife Prof Ivy Ng. TKMS 
Minister for Defense Dr Ng Eng Hen with wife Prof Ivy Ng
and Chief of Navy Rear Admiral Lew Chuen Hong. TKMS

Minister for defense Dr Ng Eng Hen. TKMS

Vice Admiral Andreas Kruse ( Chief of Navy ) of the
Federal German Navy at the launching ceremony. TKMS

MOU on collaboration in new technologies like additive manufacturing
and data analytics for naval application between DSTA and TKMS. Source TKMS
DSTA and TKMS MOU signing. Source TKMS

MOU Signing Kiel 18 Feb 2019 Dr Luis Alejandro Orellano and
Dr Rolf Wirtz ( CEO TKMS ) and Tan Peng Yam ( CEO DSTA ). TKMS





  1. Another view is perhaps the team of personnel from DSTA and the RSN were confident in TKMS ability to see the type 218sg program a success? When you want a custom build submarine, you really are the one setting the direction. So believe that when working with the Germans, perhaps the way they perform their task, quality, efficiency and the work culture impressed the team of personnel from DSTA and the RSN? I would say because of good impression as well as confidence in the company(past records) as well as the South China Sea dispute.

    1. Other possible reasons for accelerated procurement may be unexpected maintenance issues with the existing fleet of second hand submarines or pressure from regional navies other than China increasingly arming themselves with stealth vessels and advanced submarines.

    2. Agreed. By the way, do you plan on posting the Multi Role Combat Vessel (MRCV) that was announced last year during the Singapore Armed Forces day last year? An interesting role where it acts as a mothership controlling other unmanned systems both air and sea.

  2. If and when I can gather sufficient information on the MRCV, I definitely will. Before that, perhaps something on the Victory-class missile corvette might give some perspective on the MRCV.

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. IMDEX Asia is about to begin. ST Engineering has published an article regarding the event. New products are displayed. One thing caught my eye is a new vessel of the Vanguard Series. The 130 which is described like a MRCV. This could be the ship that will be replacing the Victory Class Corvettes.

    3. Here is the link. ST Engineering would not confirm if this ship is really for the RSN. Reading the overview tells us that it is more or less the right one. Perhaps there might be some modifictaions and adjustments for the actual MRCV?


    4. Yes, you got it. Naval News is most probably correct on its analysis of the Vanguard 130. A full fledged surface combatant mothership for unmanned systems, a hybrid between the LMV and the stealth frigate, much bigger than the Victory class it will replace.

    5. Yep. There is something interesting. If you go to their youtube channel and watch their coverage of IMDEX Asia 2019, Damen is apparently pitching one of their ships for the RSN's MRCV Programme as well. Quite a surprise. I did comment on the comment section on my opinions. I think Vanguard 130 is the one. There was another article from navalnews that i just came upon. It was on the recently concluded committie of supply debate where Dr. Ng unvelied the updated infograpgic of the 2030 SAF and beyond. There was a Q&A part with Collin Koh, South East Asia Maritime Security expert on his take on the future plans. The interesting part was the JMMS.


    6. This comment has been removed by the author.

    7. Chances are, DSTA, RSN & ST Engineering Marine are already working together on the MRCV program.

    8. Looks like Damen wants a share of the MRCV pie too but I really doubt if they can even dip their fingers into it. It is probably standard procurement practice to send request for proposals to several potential suppliers. ST Engineering with its experience gained from building the LMV which is basically a scaled down MRCV will most likely be chosen. There will be the usual high level of collaboration with DSTA.

    9. Here is an article by Channel News Asia about the MRCV. Following the recent developments on IMDEX Asia 2019 with regards to the ship and more specifically the unmanned platforms it is slated to carry.


  3. Hi Supernova

    I'm really impressed with all the new facts, insights (including on the pre-commissioning process) and photos in this article. And thanks for "Here's a link to an interesting blog..."

    On the RSS Invincible name I'm assuming Singapore is also harking back to the UK Invincible class carriers https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Invincible-class_aircraft_carrier with the second in that old UK class just happening to be "Illustrious".

    Fortunately the Invincible class subs don't feature an earlier "Indomitable" https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/HMS_Indomitable_(92) more obscure than "Inimitable".

    BTW I used to live near the Oakey Army Aviation Center https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oakey_Army_Aviation_Centre which provided space for the Singapore 126 Helicopter Squadron to train.



    1. Dear Pete,

      I bet you were in for a pleasant surprise when you clicked on the link and it brought you to your own blog! I am not certain how the 218SG subs got their names ( don't remember any name-the-submarine contest by the RSN recently ) but I do think they are better then " Swordsman " and " Archer " or " Attack " which I consider too generic ...



    2. If i am not mistaken, i recalled the defence minister somewhat mentioned about the name of the subs were inspired by the submariners creed of the RSN.

    3. Dear Benjamin,

      You are absolutely right. I have finally managed to read the transcription of Dr Ng Eng Hen's speech during the launch of RSS Invincible. How the names were chosen were all in the last paragraph. Thank you! https://www.mindef.gov.sg/web/portal/mindef/news-and-events/latest-releases/article-detail/2019/February/18feb19_speech



  4. Folks, Pete is a prolific writer on submarines and other weapons. His blog Submarine Matters http://gentleseas.blogspot.com/ is always informative and a good read.

  5. Thanks Supernova



  6. The most formidable foe to the chinese fishermen boat