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IMDEX 2023: Unique challenges ahead for Singapore's new Navy chief

4th May 2023 - 00:30 GMT | by Chen Chuanren in Singapore


Singaporean stealth frigate RSS Intrepid pictured during an exercise with the USN. (Photo: US DoD)

The Republic of Singapore Navy's (RSN) new chief, RAdm Sean Wat, is set to put a string of naval ship projects into fruition as the service tackles a unique set of challenges looking ahead.

The RSN is currently in the process of designing a new multi-role combat vessel (MRCV), offshore patrol vessel (OPV) and will upgrade its first Formidable-class frigates.

Wat was appointed Chief of Navy on March 10 2023, after his predecessor, Rear Admiral Aaron Beng, became Singapore's first naval officer to become the country's Chief of Defence.

'One challenge that confronts the RSN, and indeed Singapore as a whole, is the shrinking manpower resource.' Wat said in a written interview during IMDEX Asia 2023.

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'In building the Navy's capabilities for the future, we have looked at how we can design work processes to be more efficient so as to allow us to do more, with less. In the next bound, the RSN will leverage unmanned technology to continue to expand our operational envelope without levying a heavy manpower cost.' He added.

'While unmanned technology potentially unshackles us from the constraints imposed by declining birth rates, and allows us to undertake riskier operations without putting our sailors in danger, it cannot entirely replace core human functions that involve leadership, command, and complex decision-making. 

'Therefore, the fleet of the future will likely be one of manned-unmanned pairing, which will allow us to reap the efficiencies of both manned and unmanned operations through proper integration and synergy.' He said.

Multi-role will be a design key element in RSN's future ships to tackle the evolving nature of conflict, factoring in the possibility of future requirements in multi-decade projects.

'By having multi-role as a key design philosophy, we are deliberate about building ships with operational flexibility to be able to take on missions that have not been envisaged yet, such as dealing with maritime security challenges that Singapore might face in the future.'

A critical project the RSN is undertaking is the MRCV program, touted to be a 'mothership' for uncrewed aerial and naval systems. 

Saab and Odense Maritime Technology will provide the basic design, while ST Engineering will carry out detailed design and construction. 

The first of six ships will be delivered from 2028.

The RSN is still designing OPVs to replace four ex-Fearless-class patrol vessels, now designated as Sentinel-class Maritime Security and Response Vessels. 

Wat described that these would be purpose-built, designed with manoeuvrability to operate in congested waters around Singapore, and equipped with lethal and less-lethal capabilities for various maritime threats.

Also under study is the highly anticipated replacement for the Endurance-class LST, coined by the Defence Minister in 2014 as the Joint Multi-Mission Ship. 

Wat said the Navy is still carefully examining the requirements, and the ship will be able to deploy uncrewed systems, incorporate sense-making and automation, and support large-scale multinational operations.

Finally, the RSN is finalising the details of the Formidable-class frigate update programme following detailed studies, and each mid-life upgrade will typically span between 2-3 years per ship.

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Formidable Class

Chen Chuanren


Chen Chuanren

Chen Chuanren is Shephard’s Singapore correspondent, covering primarily land and sea systems. He served in …

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