Singapore launches fourth Invincible-class submarine

The Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN)’s fourth Type 218SG Invincible-class diesel-electric submarine, the future RSS Inimitable, has been launched at Germany’s Thyssenkrupp Marine Systems (TKMS) facility in Kiel on 22 April.

The event was officiated by Singapore Senior Minister and Coordinating Minister for National Security Teo Chee Hean, and witnessed by Federal Minister for Defence Boris Pistorius, Chief of German Navy Vice-Admiral Jan Christian Kaack, RSN Chief of Navy Rear Admiral Sean Wat, and senior defence officials from both countries.

“Singapore sits astride a focal point of international shipping routes. Close to 90,000 ships pass through the Straits of Malacca and Singapore each year, accounting for a third of global trade,” said Teo.

“The RSN plays an important role in ensuring the safe and secure passage of ships through the waters around Singapore…our new submarines will enhance the RSN’s ability to fulfil her mission of protecting the sea lines of communication in our region. All countries stand to benefit when our seas are safe and secure,” he added.

Singapore ordered four Type 218SG submarines under two separate contracts announced in 2013 and 2017.

Unlike the RSN’s current submarine fleet comprising two 1960’s-vintage Challenger-class (ex-Sjoorman-class) diesel-electric acquired from Sweden in the mid-1990s and two Archer-class (ex-Vastergotland-class) boats brought into service in 2011-2013, the Type 218SG submarines are newbuild platforms customised for Singapore’s specific requirements and address its demographic challenges.

For example, the Type 218SG design is claimed by the Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) to feature high levels of automation, including artificial intelligence (AI)-driven systems. A major consideration behind these features is the manpower challenges facing the service, given that Singapore is facing a shrinking pool of eligible recruits that can serve in the country’s armed forces as a result of its low birth rate.

With these features, the Invincible-class submarines can be operated with fewer crew when compared with the current Archer and Challenger boats, despite being larger at 70 metres in overall length and displacing 2,200 tonnes when submerged.

Other new features include customised operator consoles that have been designed to suit the Asian ergonomics, tropicalisation for operations in Singapore’s region, as well as an X-shaped stern rudder for enhanced manoeuvrability in shallow littoral waters.

“The submarines built in this project are the most modern conventional submarines the world has ever seen,” said Oliver Burkhard, CEO of Thyssenkrupp Marine Systems.

“They belong to a new, state-of-the-art generation and are also the largest submarines built in Germany to date,” added Burkhard. “It is the result of hard work, commitment and the collaboration of many talented people that has led us to this success.”

The first-of-class Type 218SG submarine, Invincible, was launched in February 2019, while the second boat Impeccable was launched in December 2022 alongside the third boat, Illustrious.

According to the MINDEF, Impeccable was delivered to Singapore on 20 July 2023 and is undergoing a series of local sea trials and workup towards full operationalization, while Invincible remains in Germany to support the training of RSN submariners.

by Jr Ng