The island state of Singapore possess an extremely robust armed forces, with her navy operating six Formidable Class stealth frigates and six Victory Class Missile Corvettes as the main surface combatant. Having said that, it is worthy to mention that their navy also operate six diesel submarines (SSK), and is one of the youngest yet established submarine force in the region.
Singapore sub-surface interest started as early as the 1980s, spurred by the Indonesian Navy , Tentara Nasional Indonesia Angkatan Laut (TNI-AL) acquisition of two German Type 209 SSKs. RSN at the same time had also introduced her new Victory Class submarines, fitted with Variable Depth Sonar and Whitehead torpedoes, it was the first anti submarine capable vessel in the Orbat. RSN had also sent eight officers to Eckernforde, Germany for a 3 week submarine/ sub surface course.
While the TNI-AL subs falter from funding and maintenance issues, Singapore finally purchased four ex Swedish Sjoormen class SSKs. The first batch of 33 sailors arrived in Sweden, on March 1996. The surplus submarines were then refurbished under the program Riken (To Rule), where the boats are tropicalised for Singapore’s warm waters. The first Challenger (ex Sjobjornen) was launched in 26 Sep 1997 in Malmo, Sweden, with RSS Conqueror (ex Solejonet), RSS Centurion (ex Sjoormen )and RSS Chieftain (ex Sjohunden) all between 1999 and 2001.
As waters around Singapore were initially deemed to be too shallow for submarine operations, Malacca Straits has depth between 27-37 meters (90-120 feet) and South China Sea with a deeper 200-1000m. Sweden’s experience with shallow water in the Baltic Sea (max depth 1506 feet or 460m) will allow Singapore to have maximum know hows to operate in such conditions. These older submarines will be the pioneer subs to allow RSN sailors to establish themselves in their processes and operations in local waters, before evaluating for future acquisitions.
The second class of submarines known as the Archer Class were bought in 2005, consisting of two ex Vastergotland Class SSKs. Under Program Northern Lights, the ex Halsingland and ex Vastergotland had their fuselage cut up and installed with an additional 11m long plug, containing the Air Independent Propulsion (AIP). The refurbishment and modernisation also includes tropicalisation and involves cooperation with Singapore Defense Science and Technology Agency (DSTA). The vessels are brought to the newer Sodermanland Class standards and is the first AIP equipped boat in South East Asia. Two boats, RSS Archer and RSS Swordsman were commissioned on Dec 2011 and April 2013 respectively.
All six boats are currently stationed in Singapore’s Changi Naval Base.
Most punters speculated RSN’s future involvement in the Swedish A26 program, however in December 2 2013 the Ministry announced their plans to buys two German Type 218SG from ThyssenKrup. It is likely due to Singapore’s requirement for an anti-ship missile capable submarine (which the A26 ), and the German firm’s willingness for customisation of the vessel. While here hasn’t been an actual Type 218 variant in ThyssenKrup’s catalogue, it is likely a re-branding of the Type 214, or a scaled down Type 216. Singapore’s DSTA and Singapore Technologies Electronics will again be heavily involved in the vessel’s software, in cooperation with German’s Atlas Elecktronik. Do keep in mind that Sweden’s Kockums is owned by Thyssenkrup so it’s technically money from the left pocket to right. The boats are set to be delivered by 2020.
The region has been buzzing with submarine developments, with TNI-AL purchasing three new Chang Bogo (Korean Type 209 variant) and refurbished their current 209s. Malaysia had two Scorpene Class (non AIP) SSK, and Vietnam’s new Kilo submarines. Singapore’s new purchase will up her ante in the subsurface realm and come 2020, the Challengers will most probably be phased out and succeeded by the Type 218SG and with that RSN will possess a pure AIP capable submarine fleet.