Apart from adding to the alphabet soup of Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) and Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) acronyms, the term JMMS conjures a vessel that is a Swiss Army knife of sorts: A vessel of indeterminate length able to shoulder missions aplenty, carry more and venture further than anything the Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN) has afloat today.
While close to nothing has been said about the military role of the JMMS as a surface combatant, mainstream media in Singapore have happily cut and pasted the MINDEF/SAF narrative of the JMMS as a disaster relief ship in their reports.
Look at these headlines:
Channel NewsAsia: S'pore may buy large ship for use in disaster zones: Dr Ng
Today: SAF mulls buying larger ship to better aid in diaster relief
The Straits Times: Singapore may buy large warship for use in disaster zones
No one has asked about the role a large ship that can carry helicopters can serve in enhancing the SAF's capability during operations (read: in peace, troubled peace and war).
Minister for Defence Dr Ng Eng Hen told reporters in his interview with the Singapore media ahead of SAF Day, which is today:"A larger JMMS would be able to carry more helicopters or have more helicopters operating. When we responded to Typhoon Haiyen... basically the typhoon was so devastating that comms and communication were knocked out. There was no centralised ability for command and control of the airspace. In that context, a ship like the JMMS would have been very useful."
And indeed it would.
The unease one feels with such a storyline comes from the impression that such sugar coating builds in the minds of Singaporeans as well as friends and frenemies abroad.
It could lead to the image of the SAF in general, and the Singapore Navy in particular, as a Peace Corps for the region. So if and when our multi-billion dollar defence budget eventually results in a JMMS pierside at an RSN naval base, Singapore may find itself inundated with calls to assist in the aftermath of nature's fury.
Can we ignore these plaintive pleas?
If we get the large ship that can carry helicopters, we may find it awkward to RSVP in the negative. If we go, how long should the more capable large ship that can carry helicopters stay in theatre? Would the author of the HADR storyline also have an exit story crafted for future policymakers so that Singapore can bow out of an extended deployment in a disaster zone with dignity and goodwill bridged with the foreign nation?
Whatever the narrative the mainstream media laps up, observers should know the SAF's key purpose of deterring aggression through strength and readiness lies at the core of our capability
Ditch the Peace Corps mental image and one sees a JMMS capable of supporting amphibious operations on the exposed flank of the area of operations. Singapore Army and Republic of Singapore Air Force assets embarked on the JMMS would allow the SAF to project combat and combat support forces on and from the sea. More impactful is the type and sustainability of air support coming from RSAF rotary-wing and quite possibly fixed-wing aviation operating from the JMMS. These could conceivably range from upgraded Apache attack helicopters (the crashed bird is being souped up to a new standard), troopships to combat naval aviation.
In addition, drones tailored for military missions other than surveillance could be unleashed by the JMMS, adding a new dimensions to the fight that present-day RSN Task Groups built around its LSTs cannot muster.
As the 141-metre long Endurance-class tank landing ships are already frontrunners in this role of projecting SAF muscle across the beach, the capability of the planned JMMS is likely to be on par or superior to that found aboard the Endurance LSTs. Few amphibs used by foreign navies can rival the beach landing capabilities of each Endurance LST, which is designed to embark a sizeable number of fast waterjet-propelled landing craft. This suggests an uplift in the ability of the JMMS to not just move men and materiel on the water and in the air, but also use its flight deck to deliver RSAF combat power where it counts - let's leave it at that. Singapore Army, Navy and Air Force executing multiple missions jointly from the same hull - hence JMMS.
By the time the JMMS hits the water, our ageing fast landing craft introduced under Project M are expected to have been superceded by a new class of landing craft, some of which have a drive-thru design to carry heavy vehicles around 70 tonnes. These landing craft could appear sooner than you think.
Keep your eyes open.
Happy SAF Day.