Thursday, March 6, 2014

The Singapore Armed Forces: Protecting Singapore in 2030

"We build the SAF for an uncertain future with unknown risks and new challenges. But MINDEF is confident that as long as we have the strong support of members of this House and Singaporeans, who are strongly resolved to defend ourselves and willing to invest in building these capabilities, the SAF will be able to preserve our peace and protect our sovereignty." - Dr Ng Eng Hen, Minister for Defence, Singapore 

Fight Current, Fight Future
By Dr Ng Eng Hen, Minister for Defence, Singapore
Summarised from DM's statement delivered on 6 March 2014 which wrapped up the debate in Parliament on the FY 2014/15 Defence Budget. Parliament passed the S$12.56 billion budgeted for the Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) and the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF).

What are we building up the SAF to be like in the future? Let me illustrate with a schematic of what the SAF might look like in 2030. It will be an SAF with all parts highly connected. Which means that whether it’s the fighter pilot in the air, the sailor out on the oceans or the soldier on land, each will be able to see the big picture, and beyond that, speak to each other to jointly target threats and orchestrate responses. Let me repeat that: Whether it’s the fighter pilot in the air, the sailor out on the oceans or the soldier on land, each will be able to see the big picture, and beyond that, speak to each other to jointly target threats and orchestrate responses. It's sound simple but is very difficult to do. This concept of a networked force is now a reality, and the SAF, a front-runner in realising its full potential.

In 2030, our F-16s will be upgraded with the Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar which are more precise and can see further, and have more precise air-to-ground munitions. Together with the F- 15s, they will be able to defend our airspace. In addition, we would have acquired our next generation fighter aircraft. We are not ready to decide yet because our F-15s and F-16s serve us for the near term and medium term.

We will also have in place air defence capabilities with the deployment of the SPYDER and ASTER-30 Surface-to-Air Missile Systems. In other words, a layered air defence.

Our current KC-135 aerial tankers will have been replaced by the Airbus A330 Multi-Role Tanker Transport (MRTT), which we have decided to acquire. You will be familiar with the A330 because you fly in these commercial planes. The MRTT can hold 20% more fuel than the KC-135 and will extend the range of our fighters through Air-to-Air Refuelling. The MRTT can also double up as a cargo and troop-lift aircraft to deploy troops and equipment to overseas sites further away as we have done in HADR operations.

For our Navy, two Type-218SG submarines will be in operation, together with our two Archer-class submarines. Our Frigates, operating with their Sikorsky S-70B Naval Helicopters, and our new Littoral Mission Vessels, will form the mainstay of our surface fleet. The Naval helicopters have proved to be effective and versatile for a wide range of missions, and have validated their usefulness in the Gulf of Aden counter-piracy missions. The SAF has therefore decided to acquire two more Naval helicopters. The SAF has also found the multi-role Landing Ship Tank to be an effective workhorse in our relief efforts following the Indian Ocean Tsunami. However, even as they were effective, they were limited by their carrying capacity. We are therefore studying carefully the need for larger LSTs that can carry more helicopters as well as more cargo.

The Army in 2030 will certainly be more mobile. In the next 10 years, the number of units that will operate on wheel or track platforms will almost double. So whatever we have, it will be double the number in the next 10 years. This includes more Terrex Infantry Fighting Vehicles, to deal with threats in the increasingly complex urban environment. In addition, we are linking them to UAVs, such as the Heron-1, to ensure that they can see far better and act more decisively. The upgrading of our current Bionixes will also have been completed and this will be operationalized by 2030.

By 2030, we expect that future systems will be part and parcel of the SAF. Possibilities include multiple micro-UAVs for individual soldiers - some  of you may have seen on Youtube the gyrocopters that are swarming - or even robotic mules that can carry very heavy loads and follow soldiers autonomously.

We will continue to test these capabilities in realistic terrain and scenarios. For example, in Exercise Forging Sabre 2013, we deployed our widest range of platforms and precision munitions to date, including F-15SG and F-16 fighters, Apache and Chinook helicopters, and the HIMARS.

The following weapon platforms and systems were shown in the infographic on current and future SAF sketched out by defence minister Dr Ng Eng Hen. Note: All hypotheticals, illustrations and renderings of Future systems are for illustrative purposes only and should not be taken as representative of the final fielded product. 

SAF in 2030:
Next Generation Advanced Combat Man System
Opinion: Enables Singapore Army ground forces from the smallest tactical units to network securely, in realtime and in all weather with sensors and shooters from the army, Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN) and Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF). This allows individual combat teams to bring into play the firepower of the SAF decisively, giving SAF warfighters killing power that goes above and beyond their individual weapons.

Type 218SG submarine
Opinion: Two Type 218SG submarines from Germany's HDW yard will serve alongside two Swedish-made Archer-class boats. All RSN subs are expected to feature Air-Independent Propulsion in 2030, which means the boats can run silent and run deep for extended periods of time. This should reduce the likelihood of detection compared to diesel-electric boats which need to snorkel close to the surface periodically to recharge their batteries using noisy air-breathing diesel engines.

Littoral Mission Vessel
Opinion: Eight 80-metre 1,150 tonne LMVs are now being built by Singapore Technologies Marine.
Engines: Two MTU Series 4000 diesel engines driving two propeller shafts.
Guns: One OTO Breda 76mm Super Rapid, one RWS, two 0.5" CIS 50 MGs, two 7.62mm GPMGs
Sensors: Gunfire control system for the A-gun will come from Sagem of France. The integrated sensor mast will mount a Thales Netherlands NS 100 E-/F-band shipborne pulse-Doppler naval surveillance radar.
Stern slip machinery: Boat handling system by Norwegian Deck Machinery (NDM) whose stern slip Launch and Recovery System will serve a pair of RHIBs.
Other equipment: Two water monitors, two long-range acoustic devices (LRAD)

Upgraded F-16
Opinion: The F-16C/D/D+ multi-role fighters are numerically the most important fighter type in the RSAF. Fighters that emerge after a Mid-Life Upgrade (MLU) will carry an Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar which allows each warplane to detect, identify, track and engage contacts in a larger volume of airspace unmatched by mechanically scanned radars. Click here for an earlier blog post on the RSAF F-16 MLU project.

Airbus 330 Multi-Role Tanker Transport
Opinion: Top officials from Airbus were left red-faced at the Singapore Airshow 2014 fielding persistent questions from defence scribes who suspected Airbus was about to announce a MRTT customer (read: Singapour). This stemmed from a weak understanding of the Singapour market, which traditionally leaves major acquisitions for MINDEF/SAF to announce. Such tidbits are never shared during champagne wine and cheese sessions at air show chalets or press conferences.

Six MRTTs are thought to have been ordered. If confirmed, the number is noteworthy as the full force potential of the RSAF's future MRTT fleet should see a 50% increase in the Air Force's ability to refuel F-15SGs and F-16s in mid-air compared to the current fleet of four KC-135R Stratotankers.

If the F-35B is eventually fielded, the MRTTs would also need to mount pods to tank up these fighters which still use the hose-and-drogue method of AAR.

The MRTT, paired with heavy-lifters from civilian contractors, could see the SAF increase its ability to airlift heavy assets overseas over longer distances and in a shorter time. Singapore's response to the Christchurch earthquake in New Zealand in February 2011 was instructive as the rescue team had to wait two days for Singapore Civil Defence Force vehicles carried aboard C-130 to reach the team.

Tactical Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV)
Opinion: More stuff from the labs of Singapore's secretive DSO National Laboratories. A number of drone concepts like NATALEE are known to have taken to the air, launched from land and naval platforms, but have yet to make their public debut even after years of field trials. The innovative LALEE would have been a game-changer but the project was stillborn owing to reluctance from the United States whose defence officials feared Singapore would leapfrog what US firms were then capable of delivering. Pity.

Aster 30 SAM
Opinion: The anti-aircraft missile with the longest reach in the RSAF's Ground-Based Air Defence arsenal, the Air Force's future Aster 30 SAM batteries will complement the anti-air warfare capabilities of  Sea-Based Air Defences mounted on six Formidable-class FFS.

By 2030, the RSAF's C-RAM assets should have long been disclosed (hopefully). Networked with Spyder SAMs and future MANPADS, the RSAF's  integrated air defence shield in 2030 should continue to pose a potent and effective counter to future manned fighters and UAVs.

The Future:
Next Generation Fighter Jet
Opinion: Otherwise known generally as the Joint Strike Fighter and specifically as the Lockheed Martin F-35B Lightning II, this "Next Gen Fighter Jet" could form the fixed-wing air element for the first RSN warships built keel up as air-capable vessels.

MINDEF/SAF is known to have had paper plans to convert NOL vessels as improvised helicopter carriers since the early 1990s under a concept called HOSTAC, which means Helicopter Operations from Ships Other Than Aircraft Carriers. The plans would be operationalized under the auspices of MINDEF's innocuously-named Resource Planning Office as well  as the Defence Science & Technology Agency and local shipyards.

These warplanes will allow the SAF to deliver air power on and from the sea, thereby posing a headache to enemy planners as they would have an additional element to counter apart from swarms of manned fighters emerging from fixed air bases on mainland Singapore.

Next Generation Landing Ship Tank
Opinion: Singapore watchers should be familiar with this proposed piece of kit :-)

Bionix Upgrade
You didn't see me at SA.
But you could catch me in SA.
Onboard systems give my masters superior SA. 
What am I?

Not hell on wheels
But terror on tracks
Advanced armour brings you there and back.
Project A won my creators the DT prize.
Project B ís not just a BX in another guise.
I do not exist - for now.
But should I aim at you in time of war
Run for your life before I roar.

Unmanned Systems:
Opinion: Strange. A strong, credible defence for Singapore is supposed to allow people on this island to sleep well at night. But the many classified projects Singapore's defence scientists and engineers are working on behind the veil of secrecy is enough to keep one up all night in excited contemplation. Here's a glimpse of what's to come.


Unmanned Ground Vehicle

Unmanned Underwater Vehicle


shawncentric said...

Looks like Defense News was pretty spot on:

lai said...

Why saf did not invest in building up cyber and em warfare capabilities?