JR Ng – Thinking ahead, Singapore’s Ministry of Defence already has plans for the modernisation of its armed forces by 2030.
In a budget speech at the Committee of Supply Debate in parliament on 1 March, defence minister Dr Ng Eng Hen revealed plans to further evolve the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) to deal with future security challenges and highlighted a broad range of new platforms and future capabilities that will be introduced from this year to 2030.
He also announced a record $11.4 billion (S$15.5bn) defence budget set aside for financial year 2019 – up from $10.9bn (S$14.8bn) over the revised expenditure for the previous year – although he was quick to add that nominal defence spending over the next decade is expected to grow at 3-4 percent annually, to “at least keep pace with inflation”.
The SAF has benefited from years of steady funding to become one of the most well-trained and equipped forces in Asia Pacific. Many have drawn parallels with the Israeli Defense Force (IDF), with its fighting strength supplied by citizen-soldiers built around a small cadre of regular troops and its dependence on technologically advanced aircraft, ships, and vehicles to offset its small size and associated geopolitical vulnerabilities.
The sustained investment to modernise its defence capabilities is not only aimed at equipping the SAF to deal with the widening spectrum of security challenges facing contemporary military forces, but also to address what could its greatest immediate threat – the dwindling pool of manpower resources available for national defence. As Dr Ng has noted several times in recent years, Singapore’s demography is its greatest defence challenge with the quantity of conscripts expected to fall by 30 percent by around 2030. Even so, he asserted that the SAF had never planned to rely on numbers to deal with threats.
The Singapore Army’s ongoing vehicle recapitalisation efforts – which have already introduced new capabilities such as the Krauss-Maffei Wegmann Leopard 2SG main battle tanks (MBTs) that replaced the obsolete AMX-13 SM1 light tanks, as well as new protected mobility vehicles such as the ST Engineering Land Systems 4×4 Belrex Protected Combat Support Vehicle (PCSV) and 6×6 Peacekeeper Protected Response Vehicle (PRV) – will soon kick up another gear with a new generation of armoured fighting and artillery platforms.
The service is set to receive its Next Generation Armoured Fighting Vehicles (NGAFVs), which are under production by ST Engineering Land Systems and are expected to operate alongside the tracked Bionix infantry fighting vehicles (IFVs). The new platforms will replace its ageing M113A2 Ultra armoured personnel carriers (APCs) that have been in use since the 1970s.
According to official specifications, the 29 tonne NGAFV measures 6.9m long, 3.28m wide, and 3.2m tall. It will be operated by a three-person crew comprising the driver, gunner, and vehicle commander, and can carry up to eight fully equipped troops in its rear compartment.
It will be equipped with a remote weapon station (RWS) and armed with an Orbital ATK Armament Systems Mk44 30mm calibre main gun and a coaxial 7.62mm machine gun. The RWS is also fitted with a roof-mounted panoramic sight that enables the commander to survey the environment for threats independently of the gunner’s sight, enhancing situational awareness and threat response. A variant of the vehicle equipped with the missile-capable Rafael Advanced Defense Systems’ Samson MkII RWS was also briefly shown on the Ministry of Defence’s (MINDEF’s) website, although it was quickly removed on the same day of release.
The vehicle is powered by an MTU 8V-199 TE20 diesel engine producing around 710hp, which is coupled to a Kinetics Drive Solutions HMX3000 transmission and provides a power-to-weight ratio of 24.5hp/tonne for a maximum stated speed of 70km/h and operating range of 500km.
“For the army, the NGAFV will replace our M113 Ultras as the mainstay of the SAF’s mechanised forces from this year onward,” Dr Ng announced, noting that the vehicle will be debuted at the National Day parade, which occurs in August.
The service had also earlier unveiled the prototype of an armoured recovery vehicle (ARV) variant of the NGAFV called the Next-Generation ARV (NGARV). Based on the same chassis and employing many of the same automotive systems used in the AFV platform for cost savings, the recovery variant is operated by a crew of three comprising a vehicle commander, a driver, and an automotive specialist technician.
The NGARV’s primary equipment includes a telescopic knuckle boom crane that can be traversed 360 degrees as well as a recovery winch that can pull a load of up to 25.5 tonnes. Like the AFV variant, the NGARV is equipped with a suite of cameras that improve the crew’s ability to operate the vehicle under armour protection.
The army’s long-range firepower will also be boosted by the Next Generation Howitzer: a wheeled self-propelled 155mm / 52-calibre weapon system that will offer a higher rate of firepower and reduced manpower requirements over the army’s current towed Field Howitzer 2000 (FH2000). It will join the service’s existing Primus tracked 155mm / 52-calibre self-propelled howitzer and High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS).
Although MINDEF has not released detailed information about the Next Generation Howitzer, ST Engineering Land Systems’ 8×8 Advanced Mobile Gun System (AMGS) design is widely seen as the leading contender.
The AMGS design, which will have a gross vehicle weight of 28 tonnes and measuring 11.5m long and 3m wide, is expected to offer a maximum road speed of 80km/h and a cross-country speed of 30km/h. It will feature a high level of automation with automatic projectile and charge loading capabilities, while its gun laying system is interconnected with a fire control system, enabling the crew to perform fire missions within its armoured crew cabin.
The company earlier stated that the AMGS can fire six rounds every three minutes with an effective maximum range of 40km with extended range full bore (ERFB) ammunition.
Republic of Singapore Navy
Likewise, the Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN) is also committed to modernising its fleet and is set to replace many of its present assets by 2030. In March 2019, the service launched the first of four new-built and air-independent propulsion (AIP)-equipped Type 218SG diesel-electric submarines – procured under separate contracts in 2013 and 2017 – that will replace the service’s ex-Swedish Navy Västergötland class AIP boats by 2025.
Under construction in Kiel by ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems (TKMS), the Type 218SG submarine will be operated by a 28-person crew has an overall length of 70m with a pressure hull diameter of 6.3m. According to MINDEF specifications, the new boats will displace 2,200 tonnes when submerged and 2,000 tonnes when surfaced and are expected to reach maximum speeds of more than 15 knots when submerged.
The boats are armed with eight torpedo tubes, which are reportedly 533mm in size, and can be fitted out with a wider range of mission payloads. Advanced automation as well as indigenously-developed sense-making and “accelerated decision-making support systems” designed to improve crew situational awareness and their ability to act, have also been incorporated into their design. These include data analytics and decision support engines that have been indigenously developed by Singapore’s Defence Science and Technology Agency (DSTA).
Underwater manoeuvrability in the littoral operating environment has been optimised with an X-rudder fin design, while fuel cell-based AIP propulsion technology is expected to enable the new submarines to remain submerged for approximately 50 percent longer than the in-service boats.
The lead boat, Invincible, will undergo sea trials before its expected delivery in 2021, while the second, Impeccable, is scheduled to be handed over by 2022. The third and fourth boats – to be named Illustrious and Inimitable respectively – are expected to be ready from 2024.
The RSN will replace its six upgraded but ageing Victory-class missile corvettes, commissioned between 1990 and 1991 with a yet-unspecified number of new Multi-Role Combat Vessels (MRCVs). Deliveries of this new and unprecedented class of ships, which have been described as modular ‘motherships’ that can simultaneously carry and deploy a variety of unmanned systems, are expected to commence from 2025 through 2030.
Although details of these new ships are still scant, an RSN official has been quoted in local media as saying that a typical “strike package” could comprise a pair of MRCVs that are carrying as many as three unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) for sustained airborne ISR missions, as well as two unmanned surface vessels (USVs).
“Besides improving capabilities, the new MRCVs will be custom-built for lean manning and incorporate technologies to automate certain functions,” Dr Ng said in his speech, the design approach adopted for the ships is expected to reduce operation costs by up to 10 percent, compared with comparatively sized vessels.
The RSN’s four 141m Endurance-class landing ships that were commissioned between 2000 and 2001 will also be replaced by an unknown number of larger and better equipped Joint Multi Mission Ships (JMMSs). Likewise, MINDEF has yet to release any information on these vessels, although ST Engineering Marine is seen by some defence watchers as the leading contender for the JMMS programme with its track record of securing local naval shipbuilding contracts. The company is offering evolved versions of the Endurance platform with the Endurance 160/170 landing helicopter dock (LHD) designs.
The 14,500-tonne Endurance 160 design debuted as far back as 2010, depicting a 163.7m long vessel that features a flight deck with capacity for up to five medium-lift helicopters or two heavy lift helicopters, hangar space and maintenance support for up to seven medium-lift helicopters with their rotors folded, and a stern well-deck that can accommodate up to four landing craft. Besides rotary aircraft, the ship will also be equipped with extensive medical facilities and will be capable of transporting heavy/light wheeled and tracked vehicles.
A larger design, the Endurance 170, was unveiled in 2017. This is envisioned to have a full load displacement of around 17,000 tonnes, increased hangar space for up to 10 medium-lift helicopters, as well as an improved armament fit comprising a 76mm main gun, four 30mm secondary guns, two anti-missile launchers, and a 16-cell vertical launch system for surface-to-air (SAM) missiles.
That is not to say that foreign designs, such as Naval Group’s Mistral-class projection and command ships, are not in contention, given that the RSN has had a favourable experience with the company’s stealthy La Fayette-class design that forms the basis for its principal surface warfare combatants today: the Formidable-class multi-mission frigates.
The service is also on track to operationalise all eight of the Littoral Mission Vessels (LMVs) by 2020. Built by ST Engineering Marine and derived from Saab’s Flexpatrol design, these new ships replace its Fearless-class patrol vessels. The eighth and final LMV, Fearless, was launched in January 2019.
Republic of Singapore Air Force
By the 2030 timeframe, the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) is expected to replace its fleet of Lockheed Martin F-16C and 40 F-16D Block 52/52 fighter aircraft acquired in the 1990s. These aircraft are presently undergoing a mid-life upgrade (MLU) programme and will benefit from a range of enhancements comprising a new active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar – believed to be Northrop Grumman’s AN/APG-83 Scalable Agile Beam Radar – and updated avionics including the Link-16 datalink. Upgrade work for the aircraft began in 2016 and will be completed by 2023.
Dr Ng revealed during his speech that MINDEF will seek an initial order of four 5th Generation Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) for further evaluation, with an option for eight more. He did not provide details of which aircraft variant will be assessed by the RSAF, although earlier media reports have suggested a possible interest in the F-35B short take-off and vertical landing (STOVL) variant.
“We have announced our plans to replace the F-16s, which will face obsolescence post-2030, with the F-35s,” he said. “This will mean that the RSAF fighter fleet will consist of F-35s and F-15SGs if plans come to fruition a decade or so from now.”
The future combat aircraft mix will be supported by the Airbus A330 Multi-Role Tanker Transport (A330-MRTT), which will replace the ageing KC-135R Stratotanker. At least two MRTTs have been delivered as of writing.
The RSAF will also take delivery of the Airbus Helicopters H225M medium-lift and Boeing CH-47F heavy-lift helicopters to replace its existing AS332M Super Puma and CH-47D/SD Chinook fleets from 2020 onwards, while its in-service Hermes 450 tactical and Heron 1 medium-altitude long-endurance UAVs will be phased out in favour of new platforms “over the next few years”.
The service continues to invest significant time and resources into improving its Integrated Air Defence (IAD) network, bringing online several new radar systems such as the ground-based IAI Elta E/LM-2084 multi-mission radar (MMR) and ThalesRaytheonSystems Ground Master 200, as well as the airborne E/LM 2083 Aerostat Early Warning Radar aboard its two new 55m TCOM aerostats.
These radars are managed by an indigenous Combat Management System (CMS) developed by DSTA, which not only fuses information from multiple sensors to present a highly detailed air situation picture but is also designed to enhance the agility and accuracy of air defence personnel in responding to incoming threats.
In March 2018, the first images of the service’s new MBDA Aster 30 SAMP/T (Sol-Air Moyenne Portée Terrestre) medium-range SAM systems were revealed. The new systems will replace the its upgraded but ageing Raytheon MIM-23B Improved Homing All the Way Killer (I-HAWK) missile systems operated by 163 Squadron, which entered service in the early 1980s, and will complement the shorter-range Rafael Advanced Defense Systems Surface-to-Air PYthon and DERby (SPYDER) systems delivered in 2012.
by JR Ng