Singapore’s Minister of Defence, Dr Ng Eng Hen, revealed in the Parliament seating in March 2014 that the Ministry is looking into a larger replacement for the Endurance-class LST. He states that that the Endurance is an effective workhorse,but its limitation include her carrying capacity and RSN is studying a larger option. The Endurance has been in service with the Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN) since her first commission in 2000.
Now for the benefit of doubt on the classification of vessel and preventing anyone from rising eyebrows, lets call the future LST replacement a new class of its own, the LPI, Landing Platform Integrated, knowing the Singapore liking for the word Integrated in almost every aspect. Since the small SAF do not own a dedicate Marine Corp nor Army and Fleet Air Arm, joint
amphibious ship-shore missions which landing ships are designed for, are in fact what SAF like to coin as Integrated and Full Spectrum operations.
1) Conservatives would suggest a Landing Platform Dock (LPD) style vessel, much like the current Endurance-class (Despite being classified as LST by the RSN). Endurance sits at 141m long, displacement at 6400 long tons, making it one of the smaller LPD around. On paper, the Endurance has the capacity for 18 small tanks, 2 landing crafts in well dock, and flight deck and hanger for 2 medium sized helicopter, eg Super Puma. When built, it was the most advanced land vessel in the region. SAF has since embarked on a multitude of complex joint operations , most notably the 2004 Boxing Day Tsunami and more recently Exercise Trident with Australian Defence Force on a Ship to Shore exercise. At the same time, old school AMX-13 and M113 has been replaced with bigger Leopard 2 MBTs, Bionix and Terrexs, RSN would have some task at hand to fit the 61 tons monster into and off the vehicle bay. LPI (Dock) will be inspired by the 203m San Antonio-class LPD, a fully autonomously vessel to carry out projected expeditionary warfare with its own suite of networked Command Control and Communication (C3) systems , defensive weaponry, and size for seven MV-22 Osprey sized helicopters.
However, a more practical and feasible option would be a Landing Platform Helicopter (LPH) design. Singapore Technologies Marine’s Endurance 160 has been working on such design for years, and a model of it has already been on display in numerous defence exhibitions. Its brochure suggest a deck for five helicopters, troop capacity remaining at 400, and displacement of 14,500 tons. If the specification is any true, it will be the smallest of the LPH type, Korea’s Dokdo Class LPH is just short of 200m at 199m. Growing rumors of SAF’s interest on the F-35B (VTOL version) had also associated with ship borne operations. Flying the F-35 off the LPI would require the deck to be treated with urethane to prevent the jet blast from melting the ship’s deck.
The term LPI will be more apt for LPH style ship. Air force’s Air Combat Command F-35B, and Participation Command’s full range of present and future helicopters operating alongside Army’s Guards troops and Armour units, projected by Navy’s LPI and landing crafts. More so, the ship will be fitted with its own C3 room and packed with sensors for a network centric warfare. Ramps on the ship will allow vehicles/supplies to move freely up onto the flight deck to be slung with helicopters and moved down to the well dock to be pushed out by FCUs. Even if the absence of F-35, the LPI will still be able to project air power with RSAF’s AH-64D Apaches. Operation Ellamy over Libya in 2011 has proved the Apaches are capable of operating out of ships, in this case HMS Ocean, for close air support operations. The larger vessel will be able to house more complex system suites and thus better function as a C3 or even C4I(C3 + Computer and Intelligence) platform integrating with Scan Eagle UAVs.
Like previous vessels, SAF is careful in classifying their ships, Victory Class corvettes were once classified as missile boats, just as the Endurance as LSTs. The future LPI will be conservatively under classified, much like Japan’s DDHs, helicopter Destroyers, which are technically mini carriers.
The development of the LPI in the Navy will require them to provide Area defence escorts, like the Formidable-class frigates, submarines and even replenishment ship if RSN is looking into true blue-water capabilities. The LPI must at the same time function without these escort, and defend themselves, such as Barak missile for missile and air defence, and 25/30mm Bushmasters cannons for Low Intensity threats. At least two ships will be built for healthy maintenance and operation balance, and Endurance LSTs will likely to be reduced to smaller number for auxiliary purposes and training ship for new midshipmen. Endurance 160 project is a feasible one, and I do hope the LPI will be a larger ship to make itself a proper landing ship. In any case, the future LPI will be a milestone for the RSN and the epitome of SAF joint operations.