The Joint Multi-Mission Ship ( JMMS )
|ST Marine Endurance-160 JMMS. Source : ST Marine|
In his pre-SAF Day media interview 3 days ago, Singapore's Minister for Defence Dr Ng Eng Hen mentioned about the possibility of the RSN ( Republic of Singapore Navy ) acquiring a new class of large helicopter carrying support ship that could provide better aid during major humanitarian and disaster relief operations (HADR).
"While the Landing Ships Tank have served us (well), we are seriously considering a larger Joint Multi-Mission Ship (JMMS) that would have greater capacity and greater range to respond."
"When we responded to Typhoon Haiyan...the typhoon was so devastating that communications were knocked out."
"There was no centralised ability for command and control of the airspace. In that context, a ship like the JMMS would have been very useful."
So what exactly is a JMMS? To understand this ship, one has to go back to its precursor - the Endurance Class Landing Ship Tank.
The Endurance Class LST
|RSS Persistence ( L-209 ) of the Republic of Singapore Navy. Photo : Wikipaedia|
|This is how a typical well deck looks like when dry. Japan Self Defense Force|
vehicles line the well deck of the amphibious landing ship dock USS Tortuga ( LSD-46 )
16th Mar 2011 during relief operations in Northern Honshu. USN Photo
|This is how it looks like from inside the well deck. A landing Craft Utility ( LCU ) |
enters the flooded well deck of the Wasp-class amphibious assault ship
USS Essex ( LHD-2 ). USN Photo
The RSN used to operate 5 World War Two era ( think D-Day Normandy or Iwo Jima landings ) ex-US Navy County class LST since the 1970s. For more than 20 years they served as transports and training platforms especially for midshipmen ( naval officer cadets ). However, they had become harder and uneconomical to maintain with the passage of time and were eventually replaced by the indigenously designed and built Endurance class LPDs.
The Endurance Class - Specs and Capabilities
The Endurance class ships have a displacement of about 7600 tons, a length of 141m, a breath of 21m and a draft of 5m. They are capable of making 17 knots and have a maximum range of 5500 nautical miles. The aft helicopter deck can operate 2 medium-lift helicopters like the AS-332M Super-Puma simultaneously or 1 heavy-lift helicopter like the Boeing CH-47D Chinook. The internal well dock can hold 4 LCM / LCVP type landing crafts. The compliment is officially stated as 120 crew and 15 aircrew and each ship can carry in excess of 300 troops. They are armed with a 76mm OTO MELARA super rapid main gun, two 25mm M242 Bushmaster autocannons and 4 CIS 12.7mm heavy machine guns. Air defense is provided by Mistral missiles fired from two Simbad twin launchers.
|RSS Resolution underway. Note the 76mm Oto Melara main gun. RSN Photo|
|RSS Endeavour during the Royal Australian Navy's International Fleet Review 2013 |
in Sydney. Note the bow doors. Wikicommons
|RSS Endeavour entering Sydney Harbour during the |
Royal Australian Navy's International Fleet Review 2013. Wikicommons
ST Marine has so far build 5 ships of this class, the first four, RSS Endurance, RSS Resolution, RSS Persistence and RSS Endeavour were commissioned between the years 2000 and 2001 for the RSN. The last ship HTMS Angthong was commissioned in 2012 for the Royal Thai Navy for a sum of SGD 200 million.
|Royal Thai Navy's LPD 791 HTMS Angthong during |
Cobra Gold 2016. Wikicommons
These LPD have since been actively involved with anti-piracy patrols in the Gulf of Aden and HADR missions in Aceh ( 2004 Boxing Day Tsunami ) and the Philippines ( Typhoon Haiyan ). They have proven themselves to be potent and capable platforms. Value-wise they also compare favourably with similar classed vessels from foreign navies like the LPD-17 San Antonio class which cost ten times as much to build ( to be fair these are 25000 ton vessels , 3 times bigger ) and yet still suffer from poor workmanship and many teething problems!
|Anti-piracy duty : The aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush ( CVN 77 ) |
is underway with Singapore Navy tank landing ship
RSS Endeavour ( L210 ) in the Gulf of Aden 15th Nov 2011. USN Photo
The Endurance Family
ST Marine's website touts 3 different configurations for the Endurance type support ship. The Endurance-120, the Endurance-140 and finally the Endurance-160 based on the length of the ship. So the RSS Endurance which measures 141m belongs to the Endurance-140 sub-type and as far as anyone is aware this is the only type that has been built by ST Marine. The 120 and 160 are simply options for export or future consideration.
|The Endurance-class LPD brochure from ST Marine|
|The Endurance 120, 140 and 160. Image : ST Marine|
Apart from the length, the main difference between the Endurance-120 and the Endurance-140 is the load capacity. So the 120 is a miniature version of the 140 that carries only one medium-lift helicopter and less landing crafts and less troops.
The Endurance-160 however, is a different kettle of fish. It is only 20m longer but is twice as big as the Endurance-140 in terms of tonnage - in the 14500 ton range. It has a through flight deck that can accommodate five helicopters and an island superstructure that immediately screams "Helicopter Carrier". The top speed is increased to 22 knots and its range listed as 7000 nautical miles. It has a well deck and carries landing crafts just like her smaller siblings. Since 2010, ST Marine has been showcasing scaled models of this ship at major defense exhibitions like the Singapore Airshow but there has been no foreign or domestic sales so far. The equivalent USN designation would be Landing Helicopter Dock ( LHD) and a good example would be USS Wasp ( LHD-1 ) class amphibious assault carriers, though these are 40000 ton monsters.
|USS Bonhomme Richard ( LHD 6 ), a Wasp-class amphibious assault ship transits |
the East China Sea 22nd Apr 2014. Sailors and Marines onboard conducted
SAR operations at the Korean ferry disaster site near Jindo Island. USN Photo
The Multi-Role Assault Carrier
So what value can an amphibious assault carrier add to a small navy like the RSN? After all you cannot possibly be assaulting your neighbour's beach all the time, can you? Though I must say the temptation would certainly be there especially if your neighbour is intent on reclaiming land and creating new beach heads near your maritime boundary all the time.
First, let's get the records straight. An amphibious assault ship is an offensive weapon system and is not used for defense. Its main role is that of force projection over the seas and across the surf zones to land an amphibious force onto a beach head as efficiently as possible. Depending on the aviation assets embarked ( AH-64D Apache gunship ), it may even provide fire support for the landing force.
It can be a platform for airborne mine countermeasures missions, again if there are helicopters like the MH-53E Sea Dragon embarked.
It can be a platform for airborne mine countermeasures missions, again if there are helicopters like the MH-53E Sea Dragon embarked.
Last but not least, it can also potentially be a potent anti-submarine platform as long as the appropriate mix of ASW helicopters are carried.
At the same time, the very characteristics that enable an amphibious assault ship to provide good support to an amphibious landing on a hostile beach also makes it an ideal platform for a HADR mission. The large capacity for cargo means more relief supplies can be carried. Heavy vehicles and mechanized equipment can be embarked and disembarked with relative ease. A large warship also tends to have more advanced communications suite and can be used as a command and communications centre for the relief mission. Its medical and surgical facilities can provide treatment to those in need. Most importantly its fleet of medium and heavy-lift helicopters can provide sustained airlift capabilities when roads and airfields are completely destroyed in major disasters.
However, HADR missions, although they are becoming increasing common for the Singapore Armed Forces, can never be the main justification for acquiring a new capability as major as an assault carrier. You will be silly to spend several hundred million dollars on a ship just to play the Good Samaritan and be in the good books of your neighbours! So the real motive or rationale for having a helicopter carrier is still not immediately obvious to the public but perhaps one could speculate? Could this be a respond to the increasingly aggressive and belligerent behavior of China in the South China Sea?
The South China Cauldron
The South China Sea is a hugely volatile area with many Pacific Rim nations having claims on its numerous shoals and island groups. The Spratly Islands for example, is simultaneously claimed by China, Taiwan, Malaysia, Vietnam, Philippines and Brunei. Until not so long ago, regional powers have largely played by the rules and avoided serious armed confrontations. The rise of China as an economic and military power in recent years have changed the status quo. Having utterly modernized its airforce and navy and with the commissioning of a brand new aircraft carrier the Liaoning, China has upped the ante by unilaterally declaring an air defense identification zone ( ADIZ ) over the East China Sea and have been seen engaging in thuggish behavior like fire control radar locking on a Japanese ship, ramming a Vietnamese patrol boat, spraying water cannons on fishing vessels, blockading Pilipino resupply ships from relieving an island outpost, buzzing Japanese aircrafts and intrusions into Japanese airspace to test their scrambling response etc. Although Singapore does not have any territorial disputes with any country in the South China Sea ( not counting Pedra Branca as the dispute has been settled in the ICJ in Singapore's favour ), any escalation of tension in the region will still disrupt trade and communications, thus potentially threatening its independence and survival.
How To Tame A Dragon
So what could be done about China who is blatantly disregarding international norms and law? What if China claims the entire South China Sea as its own and restrict passage? Even the combined forces of all ten ASEAN nations is probably no match for China. And please do not put too much hope with the new Japanese not so pacifist Constitution as it does not really change anything. The US is not too keen to get involved in anybody's business nowadays and would be more than happy to lead from behind. Obama took more than a year before reaffirming that the US would come to Japanese aid should her territories be violated. Further afield nothing was done when Crimea was taken from Ukraine except sanctions and more useless sanctions. All this means that you can't really depend on others to protect you when shit hits the ceiling ( and why should they? ). At the end of the day, it still pays to be self-sufficient, whether in defense, resources or other things.
How about a light aircraft carrier capable of carrying half a squadron of F-35B Lightning II stealth fighters? That surely would be a game changer. Dr Ng was referring to an Endurance-160 type helicopter carrier in his pre-SAF Day speech and he did mention that SAF is still in the preliminary feasibility stages and the design has not been finalized. Now it would not need too much imagination to think that what if an Endurance-180 or better still an Endurance-200 type hull be acquired and you can have instead a light aircraft carrier like the Giuseppe Garibaldi shown below?
|Italian light aircraft carrier Giuseppe Garibaldi with AV-8 Harrier |
STOVL jets and helicopters on the flight deck. Wikipaedia
The short take-off and vertical landing (STOVL) version of the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) designated the F-35B needs 168m of real estate for take-off. Less if a ramp is available. So a 25000 ton Endurance-200 could well be constructed to be able to embark more than just five helicopters and a ramp could be included in the design for fixed-wing operations. A large hangar bay would have to be included in the design, together with bigger aircraft elevators and most importantly, a jet blast proofed flight deck. Nobody would want a repeat of what the brand new USS America is going through - 40 weeks of additional yard time for modifications to the flight deck because it could not withstand the heat from the F-35B, an aircraft it was originally designed to operate! Of course the F-35B is currently not quite yet ready for mass production but it would hopefully be ready when the Endurance-200 is commissioned.
|A F-35B Lightning II lands aboard the amphibious assault ship |
USS Wasp ( LHD 1 ) during the second at-sea F-35
developmental test event, Atlantic Ocean, 14th Aug 2013. USN Photo.
|F-35B of Air Test and Evaluation Squadron VX-23 during the |
first ever ski jump launch of the JSF at NAS Patuxent River
19th Jun 2015. Wikicommons
|HMS Invincible ( R-05 ) of the Royal Navy, now decommissioned, |
with her Ski-jump ramp for STOVL fixed wing operations in 2005
during the 200th Anniversary of the Battle of Trafalgar celebrations. Wikipaedia
|MV-22 Ospreys : Having a couple of these folding wing tilt-rotors |
will be really NICE. The amphibious assault ship USS Boxer ( LHD 4 )
is underway during Ex Dawn Blitz 2013. USN Photo.
CVBG - Carrier Battle Group
We are all aware that aircraft carriers are high value targets and they never operate alone. Therefore with the Endurance-200, more frigates, corvettes and submarines will be required to form its protection group. Oilers and supply ships will be needed too. Most of these assets the RSN already owns or is in the process of acquiring, like the Type 218SG hunter killer submarine with air-independent propulsion, scheduled for delivery in the year 2020.
When that happens, Singapore will be the first in the region to have an operational aircraft carrier battle group and the RSN will be transformed into a true Blue Water Navy, offering credible deterrence to any nation intent upon disrupting her sea lines of communications (SLOC). I suspect it would be named RSS Singapura or perhaps RSS Temasek, because, why would anyone want to name a capital vessel after some nondescript province or some peasant ward??!
* Not counting the Thai-tanic HTMS Chakri Naruebet which, in 1999, barely 2 years after commissioning, had only one serviceable Matador ( Harrier VTOL ) to play with, and none after 2006.