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Singapore’s Police Coast Guard deploys multilayered tactics to defend coastline

Tom Abke

Tasked with protecting a coastline within 500 meters of international boundaries at the confluence of some of the world’s busiest shipping lanes, the Singapore Police Coast Guard (PCG) has outsized responsibilities. They include operations to counter smuggling, piracy, illegal immigration, illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing, and terrorism, along with search and rescue missions.

The PCG deploys a multilayered approach to safeguard Singapore’s coastline, consisting of mobile assets and static defenses such as coastal surveillance radars and electro-optical systems, maritime defense analyst Collin Koh wrote in a July 2022 report commissioned by the Korea Institute for Maritime Strategy and titled “Second Amongst Equals? The Police Coast Guard within Singapore’s Maritime Security Architecture.”

Five tactical squadron-level units operate the PCG’s seagoing assets from four bases around Singapore, according to Koh. The assets include about 90 vessels ranging from 35-meter coastal patrol craft, commissioned during the past decade and armed with a 25 mm chain gun and two 12.7 mm machine guns, to fifth-generation 23-meter PT class patrol craft acquired in 2022 with top speeds of more than 55 knots, along with six other vessel types. (Pictured: A Singapore Police Coast Guard interdiction vessel patrols around the island nation.)

The PCG is a division of the Singapore Police Force and employs about 1,200 officers, according to the Singapore Police media office.

The Interceptor Squadron’s high-speed craft patrol the Straits of Johor between Singapore and Malaysia to counter illegal immigration and smuggling, Koh noted. The Port Squadron’s medium-speed vessels patrol port waters and anchorages around the island state. The Coastal Patrol Squadron conducts maritime security operations in open waters near Singapore. The elite Special Task Squadron uses small, high-speed boats designed for high-risk pursuit, and specially trained officers of the Emergency Response Force react to armed attacks at sea and on Singapore’s territorial islands.

“Because of the colossal economic and strategic stakes involved, it becomes imperative to deter, detect, pre-empt, defeat and mitigate the consequences of any conceivable maritime security threat in as efficient and effective [a] manner [as] possible,” Koh wrote.

In 2021, the PCG prevented an average of 15 intrusions daily by unauthorized vessels, for a total of about 5,600, according to The Straits Times newspaper. It detained 24 illegal immigrants trying to enter the country by sea.

The PCG is following a 2010 master plan to strengthen its capabilities in an evolving maritime operational environment, stated Koh. Along with upgrades to its traditional patrol vessels, the PCG started testing unmanned surface vessels in 2017 as part of its defenses against maritime security threats.

Tom Abke is a FORUM contributor reporting from Singapore.


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