Global CommonsSoutheast Asia

Singapore Navy adding multirole combat vessels with AI capabilities

Tom Abke

The Republic of Singapore Navy is tapping into artificial intelligence (AI), data analytics and other technology to counter maritime threats, with plans for six multirole combat vessels (MRCVs) to replace Victory-class missile corvettes beginning in 2028.

The new vessels will serve as “motherships” for planned uncrewed systems, and much of the advanced technology will be provided through a Singaporean-Swedish partnership. (Pictured: A multirole combat vessel and its uncrewed systems are pictured in renderings.)

Hijackings, mines and robberies at sea are among the major maritime threats facing the island nation, according to Singapore’s Ministry of Defence (MINDEF). In a March 2023 essay titled “Patrol, Detect, Engage: Stories of Maritime Security,” MINDEF said the MRCVs are among the nation’s planned enhancements to naval assets and capabilities.

“These new vessels will strengthen the Republic of Singapore Navy’s ability to protect Singapore and its sea lines of communication (SLOCs),” MINDEF said. Characterized as “force multipliers,” the MRCVs will be platforms for a range of uncrewed systems that will extend the scope of their surveillance and operations.

“Unmanned aerial vehicles will take to the skies as additional ‘eyes,’ unmanned surface vessels will patrol the seas, while unmanned underwater vessels will scan the depths — all from a single MRCV,” MINDEF stated.

Plans call for the vessels to be equipped with advanced sensors and weapons, such as Sea Fire radar, anti-ship missile launchers, torpedo launchers, 76-millimeter, 30-millimeter and 12.7-millimeter guns and Aster and VL Mica surface-to-air missiles. The vessels are expected to conduct missions ranging from securing SLOCS to humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, and can be adapted for emerging capabilities, according to MINDEF.

Singapore’s ST Engineering announced it will build the vessels under a March 2023 contract with MINDEF, and also will provide support and maintenance during the vessels’ operational lifespan. Also in March, Swedish company Saab and Singapore’s Defence Science and Technology Agency (DSTA) agreed to collaborate on AI, data analytics and other technologies to realize the concept of the MRCV as a “highly digital ship.”

“Besides setting the stage to jointly deliver an advanced, digitalized, and data-driven multirole combat vessel, the partnership will help accelerate the growth of knowledge not only in ship design but also in technologies of strategic significance, such as AI and data analytics,” Mervyn Tan, chief executive of DSTA, said in a statement.

Development of uncrewed systems is a priority in Singapore’s vision for its Armed Forces by 2040. The Navy is expected to field four unmanned surface vessels (USVs) equipped for surveillance and operational response, according to Defense News, an online magazine. Singapore has also developed the K-STER lightweight expendable mine disposal system, which can be deployed from a USV.

MINDEF procured several units of the Orbiter 4 surveillance UAV in 2022 from the Israeli firm Aeronautics. They are potential replacements for the Singapore Navy’s fleet of ScanEagle surveillance UAVs, which have been carried aboard missile corvettes for about a decade.

Tom Abke is a FORUM correspondent reporting from Singapore.


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