21 Juni 2011
Archer class submarine (photo : Cyberpioneer)
The RSN Maritime Power for Island Nation : Key Programmes Submarines
The acquisition of submarines and frigates by the RSN were the key programmes that define the current shape of the service. Submarines became a major interest for the RSN in. the 1980s, driven in part by the Indonesian Navy (TNI-AL) commissioning two Type 209-1300 submarines in 1981. While the RSN could see the possibilities that a submarine could offer, it was in no position to consider such a capability, as it was still far too early in the evolution of the RSN, there was not the money to support such a programme and there were not the personnel resources for such a programme.
In the 1990s that situation changed and the RSN was able to move forward on its plan to add a submarine capability by acquisitions from the Royal Swedish Navy (RSwN). The former RSwN submarine HMS Sjoormen was purchased in 1995 to provide a training asset to for the RSN to develop an operational submarine capability. Sjoormen was subsequently refurbished and refitted by Kockums in Karlskrona, Sweden for the operational and environmental conditions it would meet in Singapore waters. The submarine was then commissioned into the RSN as RSS Challenger in 1997.
With more surplus RSwN submarines available, the RSN was able to consider expanding the scope of the submarine force development plan, leading to the acquisition the four remaining units of the Sjoormen class in Sweden, that would become the Challenger class in Singapore. Of the four submarines purchased, three were refurbished and refitted by Kockums, with RSS Conqueror and RSS Centurion being commissioned into the RSN in 1999, and RSS Chieftain being commissioned in 2001. The fourth submarine, the former. HMS Sjohasten, became a source of spares to support the four operational Challenger class submarines in service.
A26 type submarine (image : Kockums)
Therefore between 1997 and 2001, the RSN had commissioned a submarine force, 171 Squadron, of four submarines. Even so, it was obvious that the Challenger class was not the long-term solution for RSN submarine requirements, all of these units had originally been commissioned into the RSwN in 1968/69. What the Challenger class would do is provide the RSN with invaluable experience of submarine operations and support. This would allow the RSN to carefully plan its move to select and bring into service a long-term solution to its submarine needs.
The RSN perception of possibilities regarding their submarine fleet was changed by events in Sweden. In 2004 the Swedish. government enclosed draconian cuts of 2.5% on the RSwN, one of the casualties of these cuts were the two remaining un-upgraded A17 Vastergotland class submarines (HMS Vastergotland and HMS Halsingland) that were removed from service prior to disposal. HMS Vastergotland and HMS Halsingland had commissioned in the RSwN in 1987 and 1988, and were relatively modern submarines with plenty of operational life remaining. Furthermore they had a proven upgrade path evidenced by the fact that the other two ships of the class (later known as the Sodermanland class) had received the Stirling AIP system, new sensors and enhanced weapons.
Thanks to its ongoing links with the RSwN, Singapore became aware of the availability of the two submarines and decided that here was an excellent means of upgrading RSN submarine capabilities. An acquisition programme for the two submarines known as Northern Lights was agreed between Singapore and Sweden in 2005. Under the terms of the programme Kockums would essentially modernise the two submarines to the standard of the Sodermanland class, in parallel RSN-specified equipment would be installed and the submarines would be modified for local climatic conditions. The RSwN would provide a training package for the submarines, and a full logistic support package would be included in the contract.
RSS Archer (the former HMS Halsingland) was launched in June 2009 at Karlskrona, with RSS Swordsman (the former HMS Vastergotland) being launched at Karlskrona on 20th October 2010. Once RSS Archer and RSS Swordsman are fully operational in Singapore, the RSN will have greatly enhanced its submarine capability at a very affordable cost compared to embarking on new a construction programme.
This of course leads to speculation on the future of the Challenger class with the RSN. Certainly the Challenger class, or at least some units, can be retained in service for both operational and training missions. But they cannot be sustained indefinitely and either the RSN opts to only have the two Archer class or its looks for two more submarines. With. Sweden going ahead with the A26 submarine programme there are possibilities for Singapore. Potentially they could become a part of the Swedish programme or they could wait for RSwN disposals from its current submarine fleet.
(Asian Defense & Diplomacy Volume 18. May 2011)