I found myself back at a place from my past, not so much to take a look back as I often am inclined to do, but to look at what is to come – the beginnings of a new generation of naval patrol vessels, the first of which was being launched yesterday at Singapore Technologies Marine (ST Marine). Developments in the design of naval ships have in the last two decades given naval craft such as patrol vessels fanciful looks and names. In keeping with this fashion, the new class of vessels that will replace the Patrol Vessels (PV) of the generation past that I had a hand in designing at the start of my career as Naval Architect, will be known not simply as a PV, by a fancy sounding Littoral Mission Vessel or LMV- reflective perhaps also of how the role of a near shore maritime security vessel has evolved in the interim.
The RSS Independence, the first of the new class of eight LMVs, is being built as a replacement to the eleven surviving PVs. The aptly named Independence, launched in the year Singapore celebrates 50 years of nationhood by Mrs Ivy Ng – the wife of Defence Minister Dr Ng Eng Hen, is being constructed based on a Saab Kockums AB basic design. Featuring a steel hull and a carbon fibre reinforced plastic (CFRP) superstructure to reduce topside weight, she will be fitted out with a suite of state-of-the-art sensors and weapon systems intended to provide her with a superior response and surveillance capabilities than the PVs to better meet the navy’s needs in patrolling the littoral zone. In comparison to the PVs, the LMVs will also see a greater integration of her naval and platform operations, and in her maintenance and logistic support systems.
One of the key features of the Independence class LMVs will be her Integrated Command Centre (ICC). The ICC sees, unusually for a naval vessel, the co-location of the Navigation, Command and Control, and Engineering centers. Housed on the upper level of the the superstructure, the co-location is a move-away from traditional thinking as the three centres, the Bridge, the Combat Information Centre or CIC, and the Machinery Control Room or MCR would be kept in separate compartments to reduce the vulnerabilities that come with co-location.
The Independence’s ICC will offer a 360 degree panoramic view, again something that is unusual for the crew manning the CIC and MCR on conventional naval craft. Along with the housing of the various functions in one command centre, this will provide for better operational effectiveness and make the LMVs better suited to fulfill their roles in the provision of maritime security in the littoral zone.
Much thought has been put into the design of the ICC. The conceptualisation of this started as far back as 2011. Cognitive task analysis and scenario based experiments were carried out over a two-year period before implementation could be done, first in a specially set up simulation room. The room, which I had the opportunity to have a peek at prior to the launch, allows modelling and simulation of the LMVs command and control systems to be carried out, allowing the crew to be trained prior installation and integration of the actual systems on the LMVs.
A simulation of a LMV escort operation was also carried out during that visit. This provided an appreciation of the difficulty faced by the crew in the identification of threats in the congested nearshore zone as well demonstrated how well the LMVs, are equipped to deal with such threats.
A key feature of the LMVs is the network-centric integrated communication and network system. This will facilitate the communication and sharing of information on board and at the same time integrate it with the Singapore Armed Force’s larger IKC2 network, allowing real-time information sharing across the assets that are deployed. Communication with shore-side centres is also key to the logistics and engineering support concept that is being introduced to the LMVs. A remote health monitoring system will monitor the LMVs combat and platform systems’ from the shore and help in identifying pre-emptive maintenance needs.
Although much larger than the PVs, the LMVs will carry a baseline complement of 23, expandable to a maximum of 61. The reduction in manning is being achieved through the use of advanced sense-making and decision support systems, increased levels of automation, and improvement in operational methods through design and equipment selection. An Integrated Platform Management System will be used to better manage situations such as engineering defects and to help with fire-fighting and damage control management.
One area in which manpower needs will see a significant improvement in the launch and recovery of the platform’s Rigid Hull Inflatable Boats (RHIBs). Used for interception and boarding operations, the LMVs RHIBs are deployed via a stern ramp. A specially designed system of rollers fitted at an inclined well at the stern and on the ramp will allow the boats to be launched and recovered with a minimum of manpower. The traditional method of launch and recovery involves davits or cranes, which would have required much more manpower.
Outwardly, the LMVs will look very different from the PVs. A feature that will certainly stand out will the LMVs enclosed mast. The design of the enclosed and stacked mast provides a means not only to locate the LMVs sensors more optimally, it will also enable access to the sensors for maintenance, without the LMVs having to go into the shipyard.
Another feature of the LMVs that will differentiate them from the PVs, is a helideck. Designed to land and secure a medium lift helicopter, the deck is also where two hatches can be seen, through which modular and containerised mission based systems can be loaded into a mission bay below. This allows flexibility in configuring the LMVs for different operational roles. For example, a medical mission modules can be loaded for a one-off operation when the LMVs are tasked to carry out missions involving humanitarian, disaster relief or search and rescue operations,
The LMVs, assembled from 19 hull construction blocks, one of which is the CFRP superstructure, will be delivered to the RSN in early 2016 – approximately in six months time, after which the ICIT – the Installation, Checkout, Integration and Testing phase will take place before the Independence is expected to be commissioned in 2017. The class is scheduled to be fully operational in 2020. More information on the LMVs can be found at the Littoral Mission Vessel.