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Singapore Wants To Build An Amphibious Assault Ship

March 1, 2019

The largest transports of the RSN are the Endurance-class LPDs like the one pictured above. Via Wikimedia Commons.

The modest naval fleet of the city state will soon undergo a huge upgrade with its plans for an enormous “Joint Multi Mission Ship” (JMMS) whose flight deck supports several helicopters. Details surrounding the program to build one are scarce at the moment but its existence was confirmed by Defense Minister Ng Eng Hen on social media after he posted a detailed infographic for the Singapore Armed Forces’ (SAF) acquisition plans, whose goals look better suited for a regional power. A genuine surprise was a blacked out silhouette for a large transport that had a Chinook helicopter hovering near its bow.

Singapore’s navy isn’t an expeditionary branch although it does maintain a handful of Endurance-class landing platform dock or LPD vessels that are able to move troops and their vehicles over regional waters. But the underlying achievement behind Singapore’s valuable LPDs are their local construction, which is beyond the means of larger neighboring countries like Malaysia and Thailand. At least Indonesia’s own naval shipbuilding has graduated wit the success of its own Makassar-class LPDs that were sold to the Philippines. But the JMMS looks like a project on a scale previously unimaginable whose success gives Singapore’s military a size and reach the rest of ASEAN can’t muster.

Via Defense Minister Ng Eng Hen / MINDEF.

Judging by an infographic shared by Defense Minister Ng on Twitter, the armed forces’ plans in the coming decade are meant to prepare for the security environment in the 2030s. But the startling figure of the JMMS raises questions about how Singapore views the maritime domain in the context of its own naval acquisitions. The JMMS’ shape and probable dimensions suggests a tonnage somewhere between a Western European LPD and the French Mistral-class amphibious assault ship. The manpower that could fit in a JMMS displacing less than 20,000 tons at sea reaches several hundred troops and a hundred more crew members, with space left for supplies and vehicles.

Via MINDEF.

Since it has a flight deck, the FMMS looks like it’s meant to support both heavy-lift and medium-lift rotorcraft. The same infographic shared by Defense Minister Ng includes small images of the H225M Super Pumas and CH-47F Chinooks assigned to the army. There are silhouettes for both seen in the blacked out JMMS illustration. Of course, it’s ridiculous for just two helicopters to share an entire assault ship between them. But if these two models are meant for the JMMS, then the vessel’s primary role is moving troops to Singapore’s distant allies. The city state does participate in faraway exercises, from Australia to the West Coast of the US, and if the JMMS sails with at least two Chinooks and two Super Pumas, then its capacity may indeed accommodate a reinforced battalion or one half of a brigade. Its usefulness for disaster relief can’t be understated too.

Singapore’s defense ministry has yet to reveal the full scope of the JMMS program. However, since it’s meant to surpass the Endurance-class LPDs these amphibious assault ships are sure to have a few distinct characteristics. The presence of a massive flight deck suggests a hull length exceeding 200 meters, thereby putting its displacement at the 20,000 ton range. As a boon for local industry, with Singapore’s vertically integrated military-industrial sector tasked with manufacturing the first JMMS, there’s a good chance the hull fits two or more hovercraft that are also made locally. Defensive armaments for ships of its size range from manually operated 20mm cannons to SAMs.

It isn’t far-fetched to imagine how Singapore’s foreign policy and participation in regional alliances may change once the first JMMS is commissioned for service. Its decades of careful investment and planning for its own security has left an industrial footprint able to undertake projects its immediate neighbors can barely afford.

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