Singapore, Taiwan Sub Fleets Ramp-up

(c) K. B. Sherman, 2002

As the Pacific Rim becomes ever more crowded with the ships and interests of many nations, Singapore has taken steps to substantially upgrade its navy. The second of four converted Swedish subs recently joined the Republic of Singapore Navy following a refit performed by Kockums AB (Malmo, Sweden), according to a statement from the city-state's Ministry of Defense. RSS Chieftan was commissioned in an Aug 24 ceremony at Changi Naval Base. The sub joins RSS Conqueror in the 171 Squadron. Chieftain and Conqueror are former Sjoormen (Sea Serpent)-class boats built by Kockums for the Royal Swedish Navy. Sweden built five Sjoormen-class subs, which carry Terma radar and Plessey Hydra (Hull Mounted) sonar.

Though not missile equipped, they do substantially expand Singapore's sea control capabilities. Extremely quiet while submerged and capable of a submerged dash speed in excess of 16 knots, each carries four 21-inch torpedo bow tubes for the FFV Type 613 torpedo, plus two 15.75-inch stern tubes for FFV Type 431 torpedos. The class can also carry and lay mines and carries the Ericsson IPS-12 data automation weapons control system. Each sub is 51 meters long, displaces 1,100 metric tons, has a surfaced cruise speed of 10 knots, and carries a crew of 28.

The Sjoormen-class was superceded by the Nacken-class in the Swedish Navy beginning in the late 1970s. Currently, the Sjoormen-class is being removed from Sweden's inventory as the newest, far more capable Gotland-class joins the existing Vastergotland- and Nacken-class submarines of the Swedish Navy. To prepare them for Singapore, Kockums performed refits and converted the diesel-electric subs for use in tropical waters, according to a Kockums statement.

Singapore ordered the first sub in 1995, and then expanded the order in 1997 for three more. The Chieftain was renamed and re-launched by Kockums at Karlskrona, Sweden, in May, 2001. It arrived in Singapore in March, 2002. No dollar value for the deal has been revealed. The remaining two subs are expected to arrive from Sweden by 2004.

In related news, The Washington Times reports that Taiwan continues to inch ahead with plans to buy eight diesel submarines through the United States and that Taipei recently sent the Pentagon an initial payment of $400,000 to fund studies of the type of submarines to be built.

Just what Taipei might buy is subject to a number of forces, including what is available in diesel-electric submarine technology, who is willing to sell/build them for Taiwan, and how to handle the certain Beijing hissy-fit. The submarine designs being looked at include the Australian Collins-class design, perhaps to be built by a US shipyard; a redesigned, 1950s-era diesel submarine based on the USS Barbell-class; the Spanish Galerna-classsubmarine, which is similar to the French Agosta-class submarine; and the German Type 209-212 boat. The Collins class carries two Strachan and Henshaw submerged signal and decoy ejectors and an Argo AR-740 electronic support measures unit. The Agosta 90B submarines are typically equipped with the Thales DR-3000U radar warning receiver, using a masthead antenna array with omnidirectional and monopulse directional antennae and a separate periscope warning antenna. The class is also fitted with a Thales Underwater Systems (formerly Thomson Marconi Sonar) TSM 223 sonar suite, which includes bow-mounted sonar and towed sonar arrays, SAGEM periscopes and navigation system and Thales I-band navigation radar.

The 2,650 ton Barbell class was the US' last diesel-electric class and its teardrop-shaped hull and single screw foreshadowed the nuclear subs to follow. The last of these torpedo-carrying boats was decommissioned in 1990. The 1,740-ton Galerna-class carries the SSM- Aereospatiale SM 39 Exocet as well as torpedos. Germany publicly remains opposed to supplying Taiwan with submarines.

Taiwan has been increasingly interested in a modern submarine force to counter an ever larger and noisier naval build-up by the PRC, which has nearly 100 submarines, both new and capable and antique and decrepit. The PRC recently contracted with Russia for four Sovremmeny guided missile destroyers to patrol the Taiwan Strait. IN response, Taiwan is purchasing the four mothballed ex-Kidd-class DDGs originally built for the Shah of Iran. The Times reports that Taiwan plans to make a series of payments of several million dollars in the coming months as part of the procurement process that will culminate with a $500 million down payment for the first boat.