Monday, March 18, 2013

Navy@Vivo: Magic moments aboard RSS Intrepid as special modifications go on show for the first time

Updated with data on the LRAD Corporation 500X Long Range Acoustic Device (LRAD)

Same but different: It is impossible to tell from the outside what magic the Republic of Singapore Navy naval staff have given to the Formidable-class stealth frigates (Intrepid seen here at VivoCity). Each warship may look underarmed for her size, but the real punch lies behind angled bulwarks amidships which could conceal racks for up to 24 Harpoon missiles - the heaviest anti-ship missile warload for all known frigate types and possibly destroyers too. 

The fast pace of defence modernisation in the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) means that you can see the same war machine every now and again, yet spot something different.

Those who toured the Singapore navy's stealth frigate, RSS Intrepid (69), with an open mind and a sense of curiosity may have walked away with fresh insights into the Republic of Singapore Navy's largest strike warship.

Navy@Vivo exhibition
The Intrepid, berthed alongside the Promenade at VivoCity shopping mall, was centrepiece for the RSN's three-day Navy@Vivo exhibition which started on Friday. Supporting the Intrepid was an exhibition that recounted the RSN's experience in assorted overseas missions and a display of small arms used for compliant and non-compliant ship boardings.

The booth punched above its weight, drawing enthusiastic support from weekend shopping crowds and school children cut loose on the first weekend of the March school holidays. Bravo Zulu to those on duty for making the day special for thousands of visitors.

The 114-metre long stealth frigate, the second in the six-ship Formidable class and the first built in Singapore, displayed modifications that configured the warship for anti-piracy patrols in the Gulf of Aden. The other RSN stealth frigate configured this way is RSS Tenacious.

Among the three new things I saw was the decoy launcher from the front perspective (see below). This was a first for me and one of three "wow" moments during the visit last Friday, made possible by the Singaporean Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) Public Affairs Directorate. The other two "wow" moments will remain offline for now until such time they appear in the open domain :-)

Uncovered: Unknown 22-tube (?) decoy launcher fitted onto some of the Formidable-class frigates. This ship is the Intrepid.

The launcher seen above appears to be a 22-tube array of a different arrangement from the 12-tube EADS New Generation Dagaie System (NGDS) launcher the warships were originally fitted with.

To passers-by who had the chance to see the Intrepid at close range, the front decoys seemed structurally different from two structures aft which are fitted atop the hangar. The latter appear to be launchers of an undetermined type for eight tubes shrouded by angular coverings designed to reduce the radar signature of the device. It is possible that the device can be used to project anti-torpedo decoys to protect the stealth warship from underwater attack.

And so with a vacuum cleaner SOP - suck up every bit of data, nothing too small to disregard - we went aboard and made mental comparisons with the last time we set foot on a Formidable-class warship. And there were differences aplenty.

Call centre: The LRAD 500X on the portside, aft of Intrepid's NBC-protected bridge, can project verbal intentions over 2,000 metres away. A second LRAD is fitted on the same position to starboard.

The portable hailing and warning system supplied by US company, LRAD Corporation, called the Long Range Acoustic Device 500 Xtreme (LRAD 500X) was a new piece of kit for Intrepid. The LRAD 500X is said to offer "highly intelligible speech transmissions over 2,000 metres".

During anti-piracy sweeps, this device allowed RSN personnel to project verbal intentions while keeping the warship out of range of small arms fire and RPG attack. The ship could therefore broadcast verbal comms to another party at standoff distance even if the other party had no radio communications or was deliberately non-communicative.[When all else fails, a burst of tracer is one of the best hailing devices at sea.]

Healthy respect: Guided by optronics with day/night capability, the high rate of fire and accuracy of the Typhoon gun is designed to keep small craft at bay. Experience from previous missions in the Persian Gulf (aka Northern Arabian Gulf) has convinced Fleet RSN that the more guns the better. Some Endurance-class tank landing ships went into ops with no less than half a dozen GPMGs ringing the bow. Against the threat of massed attacks by small craft, Formidable-type ships can also count on 7.62mm Miniguns and other belt-fed fully automatic firearms to cover blind arcs that the Typhoon cannot reach.

The pair of Typhoon guns in stealth cupolas on the RAS deck port and starboard were also new. RAS stands for resupply-at-sea and is a procedure where thirsty ships are refuelled by sailing in company with a tanker - not an easy task as hydrodynamic forces can sometimes pull both ships uncomfortably close to one another. The RAS deck is so named because that's where the refuelling probe is plugged into the ship.

Outward appearances deceive because the two FMDs fitted for anti-piracy duties have the bulk of the structural chances hidden out of sight behind bulwarks in the Missile Deck amidships. This deck occupies about a fifth of the length of the ship.

Magic deck
The changes underline the versatility of the stealth warships as they were fitted with naval capabilities not seen when the warships were first built a decade ago. In a way, the Missile Deck should be renamed the Magic Deck because this part of the ship allows mission planners to plug and play new tools for new purposes with speed and ease of installation few other frigates can match.

The magic piece of deck stretches the full width of the ship, offers unobstructed firing arcs port and starboard and has a deck loading that allows Formidable-class ships to be fitted for but not with various types of hardware. Best of all, bulwarks screen the new tools from prying eyes and help the stealth ship retain her low-observable features despite all the gadgets that Fleet RSN may have crammed onto that space to magically give the warship new capabilities.

Tonne for tonne, the Singapore navy's Formidable-class stealth frigates quite possibly hold the world record for being the most heavily armed missile ships in the world. When fully kitted up for sea denial missions, a single Formidable-class warship can bring some 24 Harpoon missiles for anti-ship missions or a sizeable number of non-line of sight (NLOS) missiles into play.

Bag of tricks: RSS Intrepid's renovated Missile Deck amidships allows the warship to launch and recover naval special forces from the elite Naval Diving Unit while maintaining the ship's long reach with Harpoon missiles (foreground). The type and complexity of configurations is limited only by the imagination of RSN naval planners and the magic Singaporean defence engineers can deliver. Notice how the bulwarks shield all the gadgets inside from outside view at surface level.

Aboard Intrepid, the new 7,000-kg capacity crane for the Launch and Recovery System (LARS; does the SAF love acronyms or what??) was flanked by a pair of Harpoons on either side. The starboard half of the Missile Deck was occupied by two Rigid Hull Inflatable Boats (RHIBs) crewed by maritime security warfighters from the crack Naval Diving Unit (NDU).

They were among the 145 SAF personnel who called the Intrepid home during her three-month patrol in the Gulf of Aden codenamed Operation Blue Sapphire (Maritime).

The additions and alterations to Intrepid and her sister ship, Tenacious, point to the creativity of the RSN's Naval Staff and 1st Flotilla in rapidly role changing the ship for a new call of duty.

Such concepts would remain paper plans if not for the support and expertise of Singapore's defence eco-system, namely the Defence Science & Technology Agency (DSTA) and ST Marine, which were instrumental in renovating the Missile Deck to what it looks like today aboard the two modified warships.

There's another reason why the Magic Deck earned its nickname: If the warship ever went into action with its full warload of missiles and let go everything at once, it could make an enemy ship quite simply... disappear.

Am grateful to staff officers from the Public Affairs Directorate, Singapore Ministry of Defence, for organising the visit and to RSN personnel on duty who were all smiles and courtesy. Having seen the Formidables built up from Benoi Basin to commissioning, it is always a pleasure to compare and contrast changes seen from one visit to the next.


Anonymous said...

Anti piracy is kids stuff. What is so great using these firepower against a few ppl armed with knifes? Should send to real war instead.

Anonymous said...

What's with the stairs in the last pic? Is it to board the RHIBs?

Anonymous said...

Do you think our frigates (and LPDs) are sufficiently protected against anti-ship missiles (some of our neighbours may be fielding supersonic ones soon)? Should they have CIWS such as Phalanx/Goalkeeper or more advanced RIM-116? Would you consider the Aster or Barak sufficient for anti-missile role on these larger vessels? IMO they aren't (but I'm no expert), but even the older ROC La Fayettes have the Phalanx CIWS.

Who said...


I am more interested on the quoted "a single Formidable-class warship can bring some 24 Harpoon missiles for anti-ship missions or a sizeable number of non-line of sight (NLOS) missiles into play"

harpoon VL wasn't developed and the harpoon launches are mostly on quad launches. does that means the magic deck can accomndates a max of 6 quad launcher? unless if OpSpec ignore this.

Anonymous said...

To Who said... March 19, 2013 at 10:12 AM,

It is no secret that Formidable-class frigate can be fitted with up to 24 Harpoon missile launchers, 3 quad-pack on each side. Visit one when you have a chance and see for yourself.

David Boey said...

Dear Who,
Pse see Anon 11:10 AM above.

Best regards,


Anonymous said...

Hey David,

Great Article.

I was down to see the frigate but unfortunately didn't get a chance to get aboard. But I got some great pictures.

Anyway, I saw that the ship's hull, especially along the sides seemed very thin. They warped a little, possible due to the heat. I'm concerned about whether the ship is able to provide protection against small arms fire, especially since the formidable class has been used on anti-piracy missions.

I think you mentioned in one of your previous articles, that the ship's hull was in fact very thin.

I take it that the ship is primarily designed to engage enemy ships from a distance, hence protection from small arms might not have been a priority in the design.

Is the Formidable class therefore a poor choice for these missions.

I do not doubt the ability of our naval servicemen, but I suspect that in the selection of the ship to be deployed in the Gulf of Aden, perhaps some sort of PR consideration was employed.

What do you think?


David Boey said...

Anon 19 Mar 3:37 AM, The stairs help crew members clear the anchor leg of the Launch and Recovery System crane.

Shahid 20 Mar 12:30 PM: Thank you for sharing your thoughts on the stealth frigates (FFS).

There are easier ways to generate PR mileage than putting 145 souls at risk against sea pirates who run their ops in blue water with mother ships, a good sense of where the hunting grounds are and a network of telemarketeers to barter their catch for ransom.

re: Thin hulls. Should be proof against small arms carried aboard pirate skiffs.

The LST and FFS have pros and cons. Am inclined to think the LSTs are a better match as they have a well dock that can launch & recover Fast Craft Utility, which I believe are better suited for VBSS than RHIBs.

Will work on something closer to Navy Day.

You should make time for the Navy Open House in May for that trip aboard a FFS. There are mods on other ships of that class worth looking out for... :)

Best regards,


Anonymous said...

Thanks for your reply, david.

But I'm still not convinced that the thin hulls are impervious to small arms damage. I think a 5.56mm round has a decent chance of penetration. But the only way to be sure is by a practical demonstration maybe, haha.

But I think the guys in the navy know what they are doing. But I do see your point in employing the LST, though on the surface it seems an overkill for patrolling missions.

Cheers, Shahid

Anonymous said...

The LST is not overkill. It has much longer endurance and can carry the Puma (can the FF do this?).

Have you heard of Bunga Mas 5 and 6?

Anonymous said...

I understand other LRADs are a non-lethal weapon. For riot control or for merchant ships repelling pirates.

Anonymous said...

Dear David,
May i know what is the metal stuff on the right side of LRAD?


David Boey said...

Dear lionnoisy,
The square piece directly above the letter "N"? I think it's a mount for the signal lamp.

Best regards,


Anonymous said...

Dear David,
I refer to the square small piece of metal , with another piece metal protracting,
one o'clock to the letter "D".


Anonymous said...

That is the bracket to hold the nameplate in place. There is another one between the N and the T

Anonymous said...

Hi guys,
can anyone please tell me what is the metal piece inside the red circle?


D-Mitch said...

Dear David,

I have discovered recently your blog and I feel amazed of your excellent work and especially the details and your efforts to analyze RSS ships such as the Formidable class. I have used some of your information to write a complete article about the class on my blog Feel free to comment!

I believe the EO sensor on board of the ships is the Israeli MSIS which is identical, Najir 2000 has been replaced I believe. Also the unknown decoy launcher is a configuration of the new SAGEM NGDS. Check it!

Again great work,