|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 |
|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