Saturday, May 6, 2017

Republic of Singapore Navy RSN Littoral Mission Vessel LMV RSS Independence to make show debut at IMDEX Asia 2017

One distinguishing feature of the Republic of Singapore Navy's (RSN) Victory-class Missile Corvettes is the enclosed mast that stacks the EW suite with surveillance radars.

The 28-metre tall mast achieved a tricky balance between giving sensors maximum height (to extend their surveillance horizon) while managing the complexities of electromagnetic interference.

While the design worked fine from an engineering/technical standpoint, it made the MCV top heavy.

When a pair of MCVs encountered heavy weather in the South China Sea, one MCV lost her Sea Giraffe radar after it toppled off the swaying mast in rough seas. Had this occurred during operations, the MCV would have been out of the fight.

From an operational standpoint, the Project S design could do better. Experience with S taught us to be cognizant of compromises and shortcomings that may arise, no matter how good an idea may sound on paper.

When the RSN's latest fighting ship, RSS Independence, goes on show later this month at IMDEX Asia 2017, the Littoral Mission Vessel (LMV) design is likely to stoke the interest of many discerning eyes.

Among the unique features aboard the Independence is the Integrated Command Centre which places key staff for steering, fighting and managing the warship, in a common workspace in the superstructure. This design philosophy goes against the grain of conventional warship design, where the warship's armament and sensors are usually managed from an enclosed room within the hull to minimise vulnerability to enemy action.

Foreigners touring the Independence for the first time may walk away with the feeling that the LMV has traded efficiency in command and control for combat survivability. Instead of a windowless, watertight and darkened workspace tucked below the main deck where command centres for most warships are found, the workspace aboard the Independence is quite the opposite.

It is surrounded by windows, is not compartmentalised and sits on the 02 Deck of a superstructure made of composite material. And as the LMV name implies, this is a warship expected to fight in littoral waters. In the RSN's context, close to shore - quite possibly a hostile one during operations.

As demonstrated in naval engagements elsewhere, warships that stray within the range rings of guided munitions such as anti-tank missiles cannot expect the enemy to hold back. It is quite clear that a warhead designed to penetrate armour can inflict a hefty amount of damage to warships, which in this day and age, are not armoured to the same extent as surface combatants were during WW2.

The LMV's innovative (RSN's choice of words) design has triggered many interesting discussions over the wisdom of this approach. From seeing the demonstration in the simulated battlespace simlab at Depot Road, to Indy's launch at Benoi Basin and the briefing at the wooden mockup, right up to the visit to Indy at Changi Naval Base in April ahead of her commissioning, plus the unattributable background chitchats, all have contributed to a deeper understanding of why the LMV will not prove a pushover in combat.

This is because the LMV is designed to embark mission modules - containerised equipment that can be added/removed from the ship - to upsize the warship's armament and sensors should the need arise. Space and weight has also been reserved at other parts of the ship for key functions to be replicated there, should the need arise.

The LMV is also designed to fight as a networked system. Enough said.

One thing about RSN warships: Singaporeans are not in the habit of "showing hand".

When I was assigned to sail aboard the tank landing ship, RSS Endurance, during her first mission off Iraq, my berth was in the sick bay as the ship was "full". Apart from her usual complement, she carried a ship protection team and additional personnel for VBSS for Operation Blue Orchid 1. All in, more than 120 pax.

A year later, when I was again assigned to sail with Endurance for the Boxing Day relief mission, I was told the ship would sail with more than twice the OBO complement. If the ship was so full that the embedded media team was shoved to the sick bay, then where would all the additional personnel sleep? I had visions of sleeping bags on deck.

Those who know the Endurance-class would know the ship is built to embark a sizeable number of troops and the triple-decker bunks in a certain part of the ship were a feature shown to us for the first time.

Be that as it may, the Endurance has other tricks up her sleeve which, till today have not been publicised. A notable one being the number of waterjet-propelled fast landing craft each LST can actually carry.

Long story short: Look beyond the obvious when thinking about the LMV Independence.

The capabilities of this new class of warship should become clear some day.

Then again, perhaps not?

1 comment:

Benjamin said...

I wonder if the sea giraffe radar fell into the ocean? Hmmmmm