Singapore’s forward defence strategy goes naval

In the late 1960s and 1970s, Singapore’s defence strategy relied on establishing a forward defence perimeter in the southern part of the Malaysian Peninsula. At the time, Singapore’s threat perceptions were shaped by its poor relations with Malaysia and the communist insurgency in Peninsular Malaysia that threatened to topple the Malaysian government.

But Singapore’s security situation has evolved since the 1970s. The current US–China rivalry over trade and security has implications for Southeast Asia in general and Singapore in particular. The increasing tension between the two great powers over the South China Sea could lead to military conflict, particularly given China’s increasing confidence in confronting US warships conducting freedom of navigation operations. This tension threatens Singapore’s sea lines of communication. Closer to home, the maritime territorial dispute with Malaysia in late 2018 emphasised the need for a capable navy to protect Singapore’s maritime interests and sovereignty.

Nearly five decades ago, there were two reasons for Singapore to adopt a forward defence strategy. There was the need to secure its water supply that originated in the southern Malaysian state of Johore in the event of military conflict with its northern neighbour. Moreover, Singapore’s small physical size meant the country lacked the strategic depth for a successful defence. Archival documents reveal that the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) placed emphasis on arming its ground forces to be capable of successfully occupying the southern part of the Malaysian Peninsula. Data from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute and archival documents reveal Singapore procured more than 1000 tanks and armoured vehicles between the 1960s and 1970s.

The forward defence strategy has now shifted focus to the maritime domain. In its early years, the Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN) was equipped to serve only constabulary duties. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, the RSN was equipped to handle surface and air threats. But the introduction of the Victory-class missile corvettes in the 1990s was a game-changer. These warships expanded the RSN’s capabilities to deal with sub-surface threats from submarines and protect Singapore’s sea lines of communication.

In recent years, the RSN set up a plan for its assets to meet these two objectives with less manpower. The plan emphasises the ability to operate further and for longer at sea while remaining well equipped to deal with a wider range of operational requirements.

The RSN’s new Independence-class warships require a smaller crew and can operate for up to 3500 nautical miles — nearly twice that of their Fearless-class predecessors. They are also packed with a wider range of lethal and non-lethal armaments. Below the surface, new Type 218SG submarines that are custom made to operate better in saltier Singapore waters have 50 per cent more endurance and a bigger payload capacity compared to the current submarine fleet.

The Victory-class missile corvettes and Endurance-class landing ship tanks (LSTs) will be replaced by multi-role combat vessels (MRCVs) and joint multi-mission ships (JMMS), respectively. Details of the JMMS are currently sketchy, but they will reportedly have double the capacity of the current LSTs. Critically, they are likely to have straight-through flight decks that are suitable for the short take-off vertical landing F-35B fighter jets that Singapore is procuring from the United States. Having several JMMS capable of hosting the F-35Bs will allow the SAF to disperse and protect its warplanes from surprise enemy attacks on its airbases. The JMMS will also augment the SAF’s amphibious capabilities.

The SAF’s current military airbases are located close to neighbouring states. For example, Tengah airbase is located only 6 kilometres from Malaysia and is vulnerable to attacks by swarms of drones, missiles or artillery fire. The successful attack on a Saudi Arabian oilfield by 18 drones in September 2019 highlights the vulnerability of Singapore’s airbases.

But utilising the JMMS as a mobile airbase requires protection from air, surface and sub-surface threats. The RSN’s current Formidable-class frigates might not be able to sustain saturated attacks from the air. This is where the MRCVs could function as a defensive shield for the JMMS. In providing area defence, the MRCVs could be better armed than the current Formidable-class frigates to meet aerial threats.

While it is likely that the JMMS have been conceived to deal with humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, it is also unlikely that Singapore spent scarce resources developing military capabilities for non-military operations alone. The concept of ‘value for money’ — developing capabilities able to serve several purposes — is ingrained within Singapore’s public service procurement culture. Beyond humanitarian and disaster relief missions, the JMMS will likely be developed to serve in low- and high-intensity conflicts too.

Building up Singapore’s naval capabilities ensures the city-state maintains its military edge in Southeast Asia, including the capabilities to deal with threats within and beyond its immediate neighbourhood.

Abdul Rahman Yaacob

*Article first appeared on East Asia Forum and is republished in accordance to the Cross-Post and Re-use policy

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33 Responses to “Singapore’s forward defence strategy goes naval”

  • Sg also overrun lah:

    Why talk so much about forward defence when it is already overrun?
    Sure, they don’t force their way in with guns.
    They just walk in.

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  • Dr. Chan:

    @Sg also overrun lah.
    Totally agree. PAP open leg policy. Any Tom, Dick, Harry can come in. Why still need defense? Defense against what? Basically, open border already.
    To all true blue Singaporeans – better have back up plan to run road.
    I am quite sure millionaire ministers have more than one passport.
    You seriously think those fake scholar, paper generals know how to fight REAL war/battle. Better think again.

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  • NotMyProblem:

    We have 400,000 motorcycles force entering Singapore daily, what defense are we talking about? In total there is at least 1 million people from the north at any one time staying and working in Singapore, it is more than the strength of our armed forces!!!

    What forward defence, where internally we have more than 2 millions foreigners, moving every where in the country!!

    Don’t you think it is better to make friend than enemy?

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  • Bapak:

    During the KFC’s times as Defence Minister, he boasted in one hour SG Army can take over whole Johore, half a day reach KL. Now with so many FTs robbing Sinkies jobs wonder how many are willing to take over Johore in one hour. Maybe go there shopping better.

    Maybe those Navi in the sea be it on sampan or in underwater would sail to Bali for holiday rather.

    For those who are sent to war, please check if white horses are exempted. You fight you die but white horse sit in aircon lab worth it or not.

    If Patrick is the first one to walk into Johore I salute PAP, no KFC.

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  • Stop Dreaming:

    All the enemy needs to do is to block food and water and Singapore become half a shipwreck and internally will be in chaotic madness. Don’t talk so much nonsense, hunger without rice for 2 days see how, then talk.

    If they can so easily checkmate with their swarms of drones, missiles or artillery fire, then what your few pieces of MRCV/JMSS can do? And they quickly implant themselves in part of Singapore, will your F35B drops bombs into Singapore or your MRCV grows leg and walk on land?

    Stop wasting tax-payers money and be friends with your neighbors.

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  • Bapak:

    There are many cut-hair one, sell home-cooked food one in coffee shops, wire-your-house-electricity one, book-your-car one, maybe run-over-to-kick you one are from the North. You want to die ah?

    SG has surrender to them long ago. Dont let PAP tipu you.

    NotMyProblem:
    We have 400,000 motorcycles force entering Singapore daily, what defense are we talking about? In total there is at least 1 million people from the north at any one time staying and working in Singapore, it is more than the strength of our armed forces!!!

    What forward defence, where internally we have more than 2 millions foreigners, moving every where in the country!!

    Don’t you think it is better to make friend than enemy?

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  • Flabbergasted:

    Invest in more ambulances, so that they have more places to hide.

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  • Just Burn Forest For One Month:

    They do not need to attack Singapore. Just burn the forest for one month and Singaporeans will run away especially all the Paper Generals. WTF

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  • Bluff Small Kids:

    Don’t bluff small kids lah. You have a doctor who wasted his time studying medicine but refused to treat patients. Get the title “Doctor” to show off only. Deprived another person who wanted to study medicine a chance and place in the medical school. What does he know about military and defense of Singapore?

    You have so many paper generals with fake capabilities who can’t even run NOL successfully and had to sell NOL off. What forward defence with RSN? Want to fight with China in the South China Sea? China will eat you like peanuts.
    Singapore is already overrun and invaded by FTs from CECA Indians and Malaysian. At time of need, all They have to do is to put poison in your food and water, cut off your electricity and water, and stop all your communications means. Then how are your Air, Land and Sea forces going to operate?

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  • Walk-in conquerers:

    Sg also overrun lah:
    Why talk so much about forward defence when it is already overrun?
    Sure, they don’t force their way in with guns.
    They just walk in.

    Bapak: There are many cut-hair one, sell home-cooked food one in coffee shops, wire-your-house-electricity one, book-your-car one, maybe run-over-to-kick you one are from the North.

    They walk in, they give a big kick our NS man who could be a commando, and half of Singaporean cheer for them. And they are paid from taxpayer money. What defence are we talking about?

    Might as well pay and invite the Japanese soldiers back to maintain law and order. Chop off the heads of those speeding pmd riders. Half of Singaporeans will cheer.

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  • George:

    Khaw BW and Tan CJ do not care for Singapore’s defence strategy, VOTE THEM OUT !

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  • do it right this time VTO:

    i nearly fell over my chair laughing…to think that in “one hour can take over whole of johore”?
    what he thinks? the other parts of Malaysia just going to sit still and watch?
    what a blinking fool!

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  • brainless book smarts only:

    malaysia dont even have fire bullets.. they just stop their workers from coming in to work ..then stop their daily food products to SG and we die standing!
    pay peanuts get monkeys working for us, but we taxpayers paying them mil$..yet still getting monkeys … but im insulting the monkeys by saying this.

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  • Unlikely:

    @ Just Burn Forest For One Month:

    Australia has been happening. Anybody surrender yet ? Boh.

    Maybe got one . You!

    By the way, all these auzzie quitters e.g. Oxy or other. Enjoying the smog in Australia.

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  • LKY wakes from grave:

    It does not matter how advanced your weapon is it is the willingness to fight that win wars.When Israel got its independence all the surrendering Muslim countries attacked it.The Muslim enemies had the superiority in numbers and weapons.The Israeli had good brave officers who lead from the front. The captured the enemy weapons and used it against them.The end result is the enemy fled and were defeated.
    But the story is different in SIngapore most if not all scholars generals are CHICKEN SHIT only can follow orders from Pinky.They lead from the command centre and are wimps with no real experience and have NEVER SEEN ACTION.
    As for the man SIngapore is not worth defending any more. The enemy is among us with so many many foreign talents.They all get better jobs with less qualifications. They no need to do NS. They are work in SInkapore for few years and go back to their countries and live like KINGS.We on the other hand have to struggle all our lives. In the most expensive city.
    The government also tread us like second class citizens..Scholarship for foreign students and and holding of certificates for our students who cannot pay school fees.We also pay our whole life for an assert that becomes zero.
    If war ever comes all these FTs PAP millionaire ministers and their cronies willl ALL ROAD RUN.Singapore is not worth defending ANYMORE.

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  • Python 5:

    look at the causeway jam during public holidays.
    we are obsessed with the stuff they offer at the 3to1 exchange rate.

    you think SAF can invade them in 1-24 hours???

    you ask reservist to fall in also got problem.
    you want to invade them??

    let me say this, I have gone for interviews and its Malaysian managers and interviewers that offer me the role and took me in, even if its a short term contract job.
    You think I’d attack them in a war??
    think carefully about arming people like me with guns and grenades.
    I will kill all the PAP and the 70% first!!!!

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  • Python 5:

    to the Fccking PAP govt, you wanna fight a war??

    you’ll have the 30% fighting the 70% while the Msians look on and laugh until they die.

    FCCK YOU, FCCK SAF, FCCK PAP!!!

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  • Python 5:

    Bluff Small Kids:
    Don’t bluff small kids lah.

    What forward defence with RSN? Want to fight with China in the South China Sea? China will eat you like peanuts.

    China/HK detain the Terrex vehicles already the PAP/MINDEF testicles all shrunk, their mouths already stuff chocked with Cb water.

    want to confront them in the South China Sea???

    PAP/MINDEF should confront their own fccking waster images in the mirror first!!!!

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  • Harder Truths:

    $G already taken over by foreigners. So what is the $G population protecting? Orchard Road?

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  • NotMyProblem:

    @Papak; you want Patrick to go to war? Are you sure he knew how to fire the weapon, he might point it the wrong way!

    Or you want to bring along an air-conditioner and his test tube to test the soil of Johor?

    I doubt he knows how to put on the uniform!!

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  • Bapak:

    What I mean is if he goes I will follow, bring body bags.

    NotMyProblem:
    @Papak; you want Patrick to go to war? Are you sure he knew how to fire the weapon, he might point it the wrong way!

    Or you want to bring along an air-conditioner and his test tube to test the soil of Johor?

    I doubt he knows how to put on the uniform!!

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  • Die Of Cancer:

    @Unlikely

    Singapore is a very small piece of land. If Indonesia and Malaysia just burn their forest for one month, can you stay back and breathe the toxin fumes and end up dying of cancer and other diseases ?

    This is like Choo Kwok Liang Art Of War tactics. All the Paper Generals including Pinky will be the first batch of people escaping to USA, UK etc.

    They cut off our water and food supply and what can YOU do ? Grow Tapioca Plants just like during the Japanese War time ?

    Use your brain please. Unless we have Nuclear Missiles stationed in friendly countries, then we can threatened them that both parties are going to commit suicide together.

    Don’t expect any countries to come to our rescue after Pinky had looked down on China and never even support Donald Trump. You Die Your Business.

    Perhaps you can draw out a GPMG machine gun from the SAF and try to defend the PAP and its Elites.

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  • TruBlu:

    Sg forward defence GO *NAIVE*,maybe?
    Name me any other country which is HALF POPULATED VY ALIEN$?

    TOTAL DEFENCE?
    The enemies or potential enemy elements are oredy in our midst?

    How *naive*?

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  • Bapak:

    No need so complicated. Just cut off durians supply all the LJs & CBs Sinkies will surrender. Durian farmers found a bigger market in China.

    Ip Man also wouldn’t fight for ball-less people. Sinkies are only good at fighting at hawker centers. Real war? You must be mad, they runroad faster.

    Die Of Cancer:
    @Unlikely

    Singapore is a very small piece of land. If Indonesia and Malaysia just burn their forest for one month, can you stay back and breathe the toxin fumes and end up dying of cancer and other diseases ?

    This is like Choo Kwok Liang Art Of War tactics. All the Paper Generals including Pinky will be the first batch of people escaping to USA, UK etc.

    They cut off our water and food supply and what can YOU do ? Grow Tapioca Plants just like during the Japanese War time ?

    Use your brain please. Unless we have Nuclear Missiles stationed in friendly countries, then we can threatened them that both parties are going to commit suicide together.

    Don’t expect any countries to come to our rescue after Pinky had looked down on China and never even support Donald Trump. You Die Your Business.

    Perhaps you can draw out a GPMG machine gun from the SAF and try to defend the PAP and its Elites.

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  • Unlikely:

    Singaporean volunteer fighting Auzzie fire.

    Wow!

    ….And whats oxygen and other quitters to Auzzie doing ?

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  • Bad Boy:

    Dont worry about China.

    武汉一商场内外卖小哥疑因一个差评冲动杀人
    https://news.sina.cn/2019-12-22/detail-iihnzahi9232025.d.html?from=wap

    兩度瞞報死亡人數!驚動國務院的爆炸事故始末曝光
    http://std.stheadline.com/daily/article/detail/2119554/日報-中國綜合-兩度瞞報死亡人數-驚動國務院的爆炸事故始末曝光

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  • Python 5:

    Dec 24, 2019

    Pirates attack five vessels in Singapore Strait in four days.

    Knife-wielding pirates have been on a spree in the Singapore Strait in the last few days, with five vessels reportedly targeted since last Friday.

    https://www.tnp.sg/news/singapore/pirates-attack-five-vessels-singapore-strait-four-days

    where is this RSN and their so called big fcck forward defence strategy????

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  • Bapak:

    You make them malu

    Python 5:
    Dec 24, 2019

    Pirates attack five vessels in Singapore Strait in four days.

    Knife-wielding pirates have been on a spree in the Singapore Strait in the last few days, with five vessels reportedly targeted since last Friday.

    https://www.tnp.sg/news/singapore/pirates-attack-five-vessels-singapore-strait-four-days

    where is this RSN and their so called big fcck forward defence strategy????

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  • trojan horse:

    //Why talk so much about forward defence when it is already overrun?//

    haha. got trojan horse already (e.g 6.9m or 10m open-leg policy ??) ??? white idiots still sleeping ?

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  • reclaim more land:

    //They cut off our water and food supply and what can YOU do ? Grow Tapioca Plants just like during the Japanese War time ?//

    aiyoh. boh tai chi lar ? sinkie land has the capability to turn lokang water to clean water lar to feed 6.9m or 10m open-leg policy ? 6.9m or 10m got more manpower to grow tapioca plants lar ?

    if lack of surface ground space, no problems also as sinkie land can build most costly higher buildings or reclaim more land (more expensive) to grow plants (or tapioca) lor; and perhaps to house even more open-leg policy of 15m or 20m (why stop at 6.9m or 10m open-leg and not extrapolate the logic further hor) ????

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  • Python 5:

    I took 170/160 across the causeway. got caught in delays several times.

    I see long trailer trucks with Msian license plates carry loads of HDB BTOs pre-fab walls and those pre-fab semi-circular concrete blocks used to line the tunnels in our MRT system.

    want to go to war with them????

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  • Not My Brother:

    Stop Dreaming:
    All the enemy needs to do is to block food and water and Singapore become half a shipwreck and internally will be in chaotic madness. Don’t talk so much nonsense, hunger without rice for 2 days see how, then talk.

    If they can so easily checkmate with their swarms of drones, missiles or artillery fire, then what your few pieces of MRCV/JMSS can do? And they quickly implant themselves in part of Singapore, will your F35B drops bombs into Singapore or your MRCV grows leg and walk on land?

    Stop wasting tax-payers money and be friends with your neighbors.

    The clowns have personal ego scores to settle, they need the people to stand behind them.

    GD Star Rating
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  • The Paper Weight:

    Python 5:
    Dec 24, 2019

    Pirates attack five vessels in Singapore Strait in four days.

    Knife-wielding pirates have been on a spree in the Singapore Strait in the last few days, with five vessels reportedly targeted since last Friday.

    https://www.tnp.sg/news/singapore/pirates-attack-five-vessels-singapore-strait-four-days

    where is this RSN and their so called big fcck forward defence strategy????

    These pirates do not hold SG passports so they cannot be bullied.
    FDS is just a marketing campaign to make dafts feel good.
    Feeling high is the cheapest way to boost defense.

    GD Star Rating
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