What’s in Singapore’s First New Attack Submarine Launch?

What the launch of the first new submarine means within the wider context of ongoing military modernization.

What’s in Singapore’s First New Attack Submarine Launch?
Credit: MINDEF Singapore

On February 18, Singapore officially launched the first of a set of new submarines that the country has acquired. The launch spotlighted the Southeast Asian state’s ongoing efforts to boost its submarine fleet and maritime capabilities more generally amid the growth of other navies and rising regional and global security challenges.

As I have noted before in these pages, Singapore, which currently has one of the more capable maritime forces among Southeast Asian states, has a submarine fleet that consists of two Challenger-class submarines (two others were retired in 2015) along with two Archer-class submarines, which it received from the Swedish navy in the 1990s and 2000s. Over the past few years, Singapore has been looking to further boost its fleet, including through the procurement of new attack submarines from Germany’s ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems (TKMS).

The new submarines of the Invincible class, which are expected to be delivered starting from 2021, have been spotlighted as a significant improvement over Singapore’s existing capabilities. Per information released by Singapore’s defense ministry (MINDEF), the submarines are equipped with capabilities that will allow them to stay submerged about 50 percent longer. They will carry a wider range of mission payloads and include a range of design features that will enhance situational awareness and accelerate decision-making support systems.

This week, Singapore’s ongoing efforts to boost its submarine fleet was in the headlines again with the launch ceremony for the first of its Invincible-class submarine Invincible (the others are to be named Impeccable, Illustrious, and Inimitable). The launch ceremony occurred at TKMS shipyard in Kiel, Germany with a host of defense officials from both sides, including Singapore’s Defense Minister Ng Eng Hen, who had attended the annual Munich Security Conference earlier.

In his remarks at the launch ceremony, Ng touched on several aspects of the submarine launch, including the maritime environment around Singapore, the development of its own capabilities, and the trajectory of wider defense ties between Singapore and Germany, which has also included education for Singapore submariners and collaboration with respect to the design of the submarines.

Per MINDEF, following the launch, the Invincible will undergo a series of sea trials, with the delivery date estimated to be sometime in 2021. Construction will also continue for the remaining three submarines. As with some of the other new capabilities Singapore is developing, we can expect to hear much more in the way of details as greater progress is made in subsequent months and years.