KIEL, Germany (The Straits Times/Asia News Network): More than two decades after the Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN) launched its first submarine - a refurbished Swedish boat built in the 1960s - it is embarking on its next phase of submarine development with the newly built Invincible-class, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.
The custom-designed submarines will bring modern and advanced capabilities to RSN, he said at a ceremony in Germany to launch the Impeccable and Illustrious, the second and third of four Invincible-class boats.
The ceremony took place at the ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems (TKMS) shipyard in the port city of Kiel, where PM Lee was on a visit to meet German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, who attended as a guest.
Singapore’s defence scientists and engineers have worked closely with the manufacturer, TKMS, to modify another submarine it makes called the Type 214 and tailor the systems on board to suit Singapore’s needs, said Lee.
Modifications include a new rudder drive system for high-precision manoeuvres in Singapore’s shallow waters, and ergonomic tweaks for RSN submariners’ smaller frames.
“Because we took considerable steps to custom-design our submarines, they have been classified as a type of their own – the Type 218SG. It’s made in Germany, but uniquely Singapore,” he said.
As a maritime nation, Singapore is highly reliant on the free and unimpeded movement of goods across the sea for its prosperity and survival, said Lee.
RSN has the crucial mission of keeping the country’s sea lines of communication open, he said. “Submarines provide the RSN an added capability to fulfil this role.”
Lee described Singapore and Germany as like-minded partners, with close people-to-people ties and strong cooperation across many areas.
Defence relations between Singapore and Germany are warm and growing, anchored on the Defence Cooperation Agreement that was established in 2005 and enhanced in 2018.
Navy-to-navy engagements have grown steadily, including through a recently-established submarine affiliation programme for professional sharing.
“Our collaboration on this strategic capability underscores the depth of our partnership and the trust between our navies and our defence industries,” Lee said.
As the lady sponsor for the launch, Lee's wife Ho Ching pressed a button which triggered mechanisms that smashed a bottle of champagne against each submarine’s hull.
Officials in attendance included Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen, Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan, chiefs of navy from Germany and Singapore, other senior defence officials and TKMS representatives.
RSN began its submarine development with the acquisition of its first Sjoormen-class submarine from Sweden in 1995. The second-hand boats were relaunched as the Challenger-class from 1997.
The custom-designed Invincible-class submarines possess longer endurance and higher payloads. They will replace the four Challenger- and Archer-class submarines that RSN has operated for more than two decades.
In naval tradition, a ship’s launch signifies it being moved from land to sea for the first time.
But both the Impeccable and Illustrious were submerged for Tuesday’s ceremony, with construction of the boats running ahead of what is expected at the stage of a typical launch.
Delivery of the Type 218SG submarines has been delayed due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
The Invincible, launched in 2019, was initially slated to be delivered to Singapore in 2021, but this was later revised to 2023 onwards. The fourth and last Type 218SG, the Inimitable, remains under construction.
The commanding officer (designate) of the Impeccable, Lieutenant-Colonel Phang Chun Chieh, was among the second batch of RSN crew deployed to Germany for training in 2021. The first batch was deployed in 2020.
He did equipment training with the manufacturers, systems training with the shipyard, and simulator training with the German navy in Eckernforde. Sea trials with the Impeccable will start in 2023.
The Invincible-class is the culmination of many years of submarine operations, designed to dominate the local underwater arena for many decades to come, LTC Phang told reporters.
“We are better equipped with process automation to allow us to do more with less, as well as advanced algorithms to help to augment human thinking to speed up decision-making. So the platform is far smarter than its predecessors.”