Monday, November 14, 2005

Singapore's Submarines

The Republic of Singapore is a small island nation of about 263 Square miles or a little more than 3.5 times the size of Washington DC. It has a population of about 4.4 million, a parliamentary republic style government and a strong free market economy. Most countries of this size have a limited Navy and usually no submarine force. But Singapore does have a relatively large Navy and a submarine force of four RSS Challenger class coastal submarines.

Singapore has recently signed a contract to purchase two SSK Vastergotland-class submarines from the Royal Swedish Navy with the Swedish shipbuilder Kockums AB modernizing the subs and making modifications for operation in tropical waters. These two submarines are likely to replace two of the older Challenger submarines. In service date after modification is expected to be before 2010.

Vastergotland Class Submarine

Why does country as small as Singapore need modern SSK submarines?

Both of Singapore's neighbors have submarines or plans to purchase SSKs, Indonesia has two Cakra-class Type 209 subs and Malaysia has planned to purchase two Scorpene SSKs. But the real reason is that Singapore sits at the bottom of the Malacca Strait the single biggest chokepoint in the far east for shipping traffic including oil shipments to the energy hungry industrial economies of China, Taiwan, Japan and Korea. The Phillips Channel near Singapore is only 1.5 nautical miles (2.8 km) wide at its narrowest point. Singapore's economy is dependent on this shipping with exports of an estimated $174 billion in 2004. The country's merchant marine consists of 923 ships ranging in type from bulk carriers and container ships to petroleum and LNG tankers.

The Malacca Strait has been a hotbed of piracy and Indonesia, bordering the strait, has seen Al-Qaida sponsored terrorism. These two factors also contribute to Singapore's determination to keep a strong and modern naval presence (including submarines) in the Malacca Straits. This relationship between piracy and terrorism has also prompted Lloyd's of London to treat the threat of piracy as a war risk and subsequently change its rates.

When it comes to intelligence gathering on pirate activities, there is a question on whether submarines could be a political liability in the Malacca Strait. Because all Southeast Asian nations would have to be in agreement on the use of submarines the advantage a submarine may have in it's stealth could be compromised by agreements regarding operating restrictions. Most pirates are operating out of sheltered coastal coves, a foreign submarine continually operating in a disputed territory could touch a nerve between neighboring countries.

After reading this post and comments over at Chapomatic started by commissar post at The Politburo Diktat I thought it an interesting correlation between Singapore's recent submarine purchase, it's neighbors similar ambitions and the problem of Terrorism and Piracy in the Malacca Straits.

Submarines may not be the complete answer against pirates in the Malacca Straits or the Horn of Africa but they sure could take out a terrorist mothership if needed.

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