The announcement was made by Minister for Defence Dr Ng Eng Hen as he outlined the Ministry of Defence’s (MINDEF’s) focus areas for the coming year during a debate in Parliament on Monday, 1 March 2021.
The RSN’s Maritime Security Unmanned Surface Vessels will complete their sea trials later this year. Equipped with a locally-developed collision detection & avoidance system, these fully autonomous USVs will complement manned ships for maritime security.
Today, the RSN relies on a combination of shore sensors and ships at sea to maintain maritime security of its territorial waters alongside its national maritime partners. Soon, the RSN’s new Maritime Security Unmanned Surface Vessels (MARSEC USVs) will operate alongside manned ships such as the RSN’s Littoral Mission Vessels (LMVs) to enhance the security of Singapore’s waters. The RSN is responsible for ensuring the security of the vital Singapore Strait, which sees maritime traffic of about 1000 vessels every day. The area was the third (after Nigeria and Indonesia) piracy & robbery most-affected maritime approach in 2020 according to a French Navy report.
About MARSEC USV
Accoding to MINDEF, the new USV was developed in close partnership with the Defence Science & Technology Agency (DSTA) and DSO National Laboratories. According to Singapore-based defence technology journalist Kevlin Wong, the platforms are produced by Taiwan’s Lung Teh Shipbuilding while Singapore’s ST Engineering acts as systems integrator and prime contractor. This was the case for the previous type of USV used by the RSN, primarily for MCM missions: The Venus 16.
The new USV harnesses the latest technologies to enable autonomous operations in dense and complicated maritime environments. The USVs are equipped with autonomous navigation systems and an indigenously-developed Collision Detection and Collision Avoidance (CDCA) system that enable the vessel to navigate through the busy traffic in the Singapore Strait and cope with the constantly changing wind and current conditions at sea.
The CDCA system, developed by DSTA and DSO, integrates the USV’s sensors and collision detection equipment used for manned maritime navigation (such as navigation charts, Maritime Automatic Identification System and Differential Global Positioning System) with an algorithm designed specifically for the RSN’s operations in the Singapore Strait. The Artificial Intelligence-driven system automates the collision avoidance decision-making process while ensuring that the USVs exhibit avoidance behaviour that complies with the Convention on the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea.
To design this algorithm, engineers from DSTA and DSO gathered and analysed maritime traffic pattern of the Singapore Strait. The algorithm was tested in simulation runs in DSO laboratories using collected maritime data. After more than nine months of rigorous testing and validation of collision-free simulation runs, the CDCA system was installed on board the USVs. Initial trials at sea to validate the system were conducted with safety crew on board and after robust testing, the MARSEC USVs are now ready for fully autonomous sea trials.
Enhanced Surveillance and Greater Persistence
The USVs will add another layer of surveillance and operational response to Singapore’s maritime borders. They are able to conduct round-the-clock patrols, investigate and interdict suspicious vessels in our waters. Operating alongside other manned vessels, the USVs will enhance the RSN’s ability to monitor and respond to situations at sea. By providing more persistent coverage in the Singapore Strait, the USVs also allow larger warships like the LMVs to be deployed more strategically for other missions and at further ranges from Singapore. Similar to the Mine Countermeasure USVs, the MARSEC USVs allow our servicemen to remotely and safely conduct potentially dangerous missions at sea.
The vessel can be operated by two operating crew, as compared to the manned LMV that requires a base crew of 23. This is enabled by the USV’s ability to navigate autonomously. In addition, the user-centric design of the Unmanned Systems Mission Control allows the operators to quickly plan and execute patrol profiles, track vessels of interest, and remotely warn, query and investigate vessels at sea.
MARSEC USV and MRCV Motherships
In the future, the RSN will likely deploy the MARSEC USV from the Multi-Role Combat Vessel (MRCV). These new surface combatants will replace the ageing Victory-class Missile Corvettes, which have served with distinction since 1989. Delivery is expected to begin from 2025, with full delivery expected around 2030. Besides improving capabilities, the new MRCVs will be custom-built for lean manning and incorporate technologies to automate certain functions. This results in the MRCV using less manpower – about half the size found in modern frigates. In addition, this will result in operational cost savings of up to 10 per cent, compared to similar-sized frigates.
The MRCV ability to act as mothership for unmanned systems is a new trend being adopted by many navies: As Naval News has reported in the past, the navies of Japan (30FFM), Belgium and the Netherlands are working on such projects, especially in the field of mine warfare. The Russian Navy recently experimented the same concept from one of its Project 22350 frigate while the U.S. Navy did the same with one of its Spearhead-class EPF. Last but not least, South Korea, the United Kingdom and France are actively working on this concept as well.
MARSEC USV specifications
|Speed||In excess of 25 knots|
|Endurance||In excess of 36 hours|
|Operators||2 (when USV is operated remotely)|
|Equipment||Strobe Light & Siren, Search Light, Long Range Acoustics Device (LRAD), 12.7mm Stabilised Weapon System with Laser Dazzler, Navigation Radar, Global Positioning System|