Military and Strategic Journal
Issued by the Directorate of Morale Guidance at the General Command of the Armed Forces
United Arab Emirates
Founded in August 1971

2024-06-07

Singapore’s Formidable Frigates

Imagine a warship that slices through the waves, unseen by enemy eyes, yet bristling with enough firepower to dominate any battlefield – air, surface, or underwater. This isn’t a scene from a sci-fi flick, but the reality of the Republic of Singapore Navy’s (RSN — Angkatan Laut Republik Singapura) Formidable-class frigates. 
The frigate programme is named Project Delta and is managed by Singapore’s state-owned Defence Science and Technology Agency (DSTA).
 
Commissioned in 2007, these formidable vessels now form the backbone of Singapore’s naval defence, excelling in all operational dimensions.
 
Buckle up as we dive into the cutting-edge technology that make these frigates a force to be reckoned with. 
 
Frigate Acquisition
In the mid-1990s, Singapore sought to replace its ageing Sea Wolf-class missile gunboats from 1972. The United States, Sweden, and France bid for the contract, which was awarded to DCNS (now Naval Group) in March 2000. 
 
The contract included technology transfer: DCNS would design and build the first frigate in France, while Singapore Technologies Marine would construct the remaining five locally. 
The first of the Formidable-class, RSS Formidable, was launched in January 2004 in France, arrived in Singapore in August 2005, and was commissioned in May 2007. The six frigates became fully operational in January 2009.

The class includes RSS Formidable (68), RSS Intrepid (69), RSS Steadfast (70), RSS Tenacious (71), RSS Stalwart (72), and RSS Supreme (73). All were launched between 2004 and 2006 and commissioned by January 2009.
 
Stealth Warship Design 
The Project Delta design, derived from the French La Fayette Class stealth frigate, features low radar, acoustic, infrared, and electromagnetic signatures. 
 
The 114-metre Formidable-class frigates, with a full load displacement of 3,200 tonnes, are designed for stealth and can accommodate various weapon systems. High automation and integrated systems enable operation with a crew of just 70.   
 
The Formidable-class incorporates Radar cross section (RCS) reduction with inclined hull sides, concealed equipment, and low-RCS curtains. It features a smaller superstructure and enclosed sensor mast, significantly reducing its profile compared to the La Fayette class. 
 
Constructed entirely of steel, it offers better sea-keeping qualities and longer endurance at sea.   
 
Combat Management 
The combat management system, developed by DSTA and ST Electronics, meets the operational requirements of the Republic of Singapore Navy, with DSTA also handling combat systems integration. Standard operating consoles with 20-inch LCD displays and the Integrated Communications System are supplied by Singapore Technologies Electronics. 
 
Submarine Detection System 
The Formidable-class frigate employs the EDO Model 980 Active Low-Frequency Towed Sonar (ALOFTS) active low-frequency towed sonar for long-range detection and classification of submarines. This system consists of a variable depth sonar towed body with a towed array. 
 
The frigate is equipped with two triple-barrelled lightweight torpedo launchers, armed with Eurotorp A244S torpedoes. 
 
These torpedoes have a speed of 30-39 knots, a range of 13.5 km, and a warhead weighing about 42 kg, capable of operating at depths of 10-800 metres. The same torpedoes are also utilised by the frigate’s helicopter.
 
Frigate Helicopter Operations
The frigate hosts one medium-size helicopter on a stern deck measuring 22m x 16m (360m²), with a single landing spot. Its hangar supports helicopter maintenance, with 15 additional aircrew for operations. The Republic of Singapore Air Force will operate the shipborne helicopter, while the Navy will provide the mission crew. 
 
Three-Dimensional Surveillance
The frigates are equipped with the Thales Herakles passive electronically scanned array multi-function radar, which provides three-dimensional surveillance for up to 250 km (155.3 mi). 
 
The radar provides all-round automatic search and tracking of both air and surface targets, and is integrated with the MBDA Aster air defence system. Utilising the DCNS Sylver vertical launch system (VLS), each frigate is equipped with 32 cells. 
 
Herakles: Advanced Naval Radar 
Herakles, among the world’s most advanced naval radars, is a versatile multifunction system deployed on Formidable-class and FREMM-class vessels. Offering high-performance ECCM (Electronic Counter-Countermeasures) features and low radar cross section for optimised vessel stealth, it embodies cutting-edge naval radar technology. Integrated with IFF modes 5 and S, it is fully solid-state with redundancies ensuring unmatched availability.
 
Operating in the S-band, Herakles serves as a multi-function rotating electronically scanned radar (MRESR) for combined air and surface surveillance and fire control. Installed atop the main mast, it facilitates long-range detection and tracking of over 400 air and surface targets simultaneously. 
 
Integrated with the Aster air defence missile system, it also controls the frigate’s surface-to-air missiles, such as the Aster missiles.
 
Utilising a passive phased array antenna with 360º azimuth coverage and 0 to 70º elevation, Herakles can be “boosted” with additional power amplifier modules, potentially extending its maximum range to 300 km. 
 
Terma Scanter 2001
The frigates are equipped with the Terma Scanter 2001 as their surface search and navigation radar, which operates at I-band. The Scanter radar family, renowned for its capabilities over the years, includes various models such as the Scanter 6000, 4100, 4000, and 2001. 
 
These radars serve diverse purposes ranging from naval surface surveillance, monitoring low airspace, search and rescue, to navigation and self-protection. They are also utilised for helicopter control, vessel traffic services, coastal surveillance, and surface movement radar in airports.
 
Radar Intercept and Decoys
The vessel’s electronic support measures (ESM) system is the Rafael C-PEARL-M radar intercept. C-PEARL-M is a lightweight ESM system consisting of two-line replaceable units (LRU) – an antenna unit and a receiver-processor unit – which provide automatic detection, data measurement, and identification of threats.
 
Three Sagem Défense Sécurité (formerly EADS Defence & Electronics) new-generation Dagaie systems (NGDS) are fitted. Each system consists of a pair of two-axis launchers with 12 infrared, radar, or acoustic decoys. 
 
Each vessel is equipped with three eight barrel 130mm Sagem NGDS (New-Generation Dagaie System) multiple decoy launchers to counter a variety of threats such as anti-ship missiles and torpedoes. 
 
Two decoy launchers are in front of the bridge. NGDS is integrated in the ship’s combat system’s detection and warning system and can react automatically to current or emerging threats, in extremely short times. 
 
Each system is equipped with a single dual launcher including decoys (infrared, radar or acoustic) adapted to the threat to be neutralised. 
 
The NGDS system adapts to all types of munitions: electromagnetic or IR decoys, Active Offboard Decoy (AOD), Anti-Torpedo Decoy and/or laser jammer, deployed at short, medium or long range. 
 
The launchers are linked to a computer that selects the decoying best-suited technique. 
 
The Electronic Warfare Coordination Centre provides the commanding officer with the ship’s tactical situation and coordinates the various Electronic Warfare (EW) tactics: threat evaluation, tactics optimisation, coordination of decoys, radar jammer and more generally, electronic countermeasures Electronic Support Measures. 
 
Some of the ships of the class have been spotted with different decoy launchers, the SAGEM NGDS II, which are a newer version of the NGDS.
 
The new configuration is two forward launching systems replacing the two previous NGDS and two WASS countermeasure launching systems atop the hangar.
 
MTU 20V 8000 Diesel Engines 
The frigate is powered by four MTU 20V 8000 diesel engines in a combined diesel and diesel (CODAD) configuration. Each engine is rated at 8,200kW. The engines drive two shafts with constant pitch propellers.
 
The cruise and maximum speeds are 18k and 27k and the range is 7,200km (4,000nm).
 
Bristling with Weaponry
Singapore’s Formidable-class frigates bristle with weaponry, transforming them from stealthy hunters to offensive powerhouses. The Boeing Harpoon missiles deliver devastating blows to enemy ships at 130km, while the DCNS Sylver launcher unleashes Aster 15 missiles to shield against air threats at 30km. 
 
For close encounters, the Oto Melara 76mm rapid-fire gun unleashes a hail of 6kg shells. Beyond these details, the frigates are said to possess advanced sonar and torpedoes, ensuring dominance across all maritime domains.
 
Naval Helicopter Sensor Suite
The frigates are equipped with Sikorsky S-70B naval helicopters, featuring Telephonics AN/APS-143 Ocean Eye X-band maritime surveillance radar, L-3 Communications Helicopter Long Range Active Sonar (HELRAS) dipping sonar, EuroTorp A244/S Mod 3 torpedoes, and Raytheon AAS-44 electro-optic system for infrared detection.
 
The VLS consists of 32 cells, with 4x8 modules of Sylver A43 VLS for MBDA Aster 15 anti-aircraft/missile missiles. Reports suggest two modules are Sylver A43 VLS, while two are the larger A50 VLS for MBDA Aster 30 missiles. 
 
Aster 15 offers a range of over 30km, speeds exceeding Mach 3, and agile manoeuvring capabilities. Aster 30 achieves speeds of Mach 4.5 with a range of 100-120km, featuring high hit-to-kill capability and rapid reaction time.
 
The standard complement of surface-to-surface missiles (SSMs) for these ships consists of eight Boeing RGM-84C Harpoon anti-ship missiles, housed in two Mk141 quad launchers amidships. 
 
These missiles boast a range exceeding 120km, sub-sonic speeds of 860km/h (Mach 0.9), and carry a 221kg warhead. 
 
Capable of low-level, sea-skimming cruise trajectories and active radar guidance, the Harpoon missile can execute rapid climbs to approximately 1,800m before diving on locked targets. 
 
Formidable Arsenal 
Additionally, there is ample space amidships, with anchor points for up to six quad launchers (three on each side), offering a formidable arsenal of 24 SSMs, unparalleled by most warships globally.
 
Utilising the expansive amidships area, there’s potential to replace missile clusters with a launch and recovery system for handling two Rigid Hull Inflatable Boats (RHIBs) for embarked Naval Diving Unit combat divers.
 
Secondary armament includes two Rafael Typhoon Mk25 naval stabilized gun mounts of 25mm each, positioned on the port and starboard corners of the helicopter hangar. 
 
Produced jointly by Rafael Armament Development Authority Ltd and General Dynamics Land Systems, these mounts feature a stabilised sensor ball (Rafael Toplite) equipped with electro-optical TV, laser rangefinder, and infrared sensors. 
 
Incorporating stealthy panel coverings and a laser target designator (TLS), the Typhoon allows firing on the move without a standing gunner, enabling nighttime and adverse weather operations. 
 
The mount’s primary weapon is the M242 Bushmaster 25-mm chain gun, a NATO standard auto cannon with a range of 2.5 km and selectable rates of fire up to 180 rounds per minute. 
 
There’s a coaxial-mounted 7.62mm machine gun on the Typhoon mount. Other secondary armaments may include 2-4 heavy machine guns, such as the CIS-0.50 manufactured by ST Kinetics of Singapore, with a firing rate of approximately 600 rounds per minute. 
 
Sharpened Sights
The vessels RSS Tenacious, RSS Stalwart, and RSS Steadfast have recently been upgraded with the Stir 1.2 Mk2 radar system by Thales, renowned for its medium-to-long range tracking and illumination capabilities in both the I (Intermediate) and K (Kurz) bands. Complemented by electro-optic equipment (TV - Television, IR - Infrared, laser), these enhancements optimise performance even in challenging environments.
 
Designed primarily for controlling point and area defence missile systems like NATO Sea Sparrow, ESSM (Evolved Sea Sparrow Missile), Aster, and Standard Missiles, the STIR (Situational Awareness and Targeting Interception Radar) configurations also facilitate direct control of various calibre guns. 
 
STIR technology is celebrated for its high accuracy, exceptional performance, and robust ECCM capabilities, ensuring outstanding detection of small targets amidst clutter.
The radar boasts an instrumental range of 120km for the I-band and 36km for the K-band, making it a formidable asset in maritime operations. 
 
Mid-Life Upgrades
Enhancements to the frigates as part of the mid-life upgrade programme will include improved Command & Control (C2) systems, integrating advanced technologies like artificial intelligence to enhance threat detection and response speed. 
 
Combat systems will be upgraded to accommodate evolving operational requirements, with the replacement of Harpoon Surface-to-Surface Missiles (SSM) with Blue Spear SSMs, and the refresh of communication systems to improve networking capacity. 
 
The Fleet Management System will be integrated to enhance operational readiness by enabling proactive maintenance based on real-time data collected on the ships’ platform and combat systems health status.

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