MELBOURNE, Australia – The first of four new German-built diesel electric submarines for Singapore has been launched in Germany on Monday, with the southeast Asian island nation touting its improved endurance, firepower and customization for operating in the region’s waters.

The Type 218SG submarine, built by Germany’s Thyssenkrupp Marine Systems, or TKMS, and christened the Invincible, was launched at the company’s Kiel shipyard in a ceremony attended by Singapore’s defense minister Ng Eng Hen.

Speaking at the ceremony, Ng said that the arrival of the Type 218SG was “timely” and called it a “significant milestone” in the Republic of Singapore Navy’s submarine capability as regional navies step up their own efforts in building up their underwater forces. He added that the new submarines were designed based on experience and expertise garnered through more than two decades of operating submarines.

“These new submarines are the result of years-long experience and expertise in Germany and Singapore,” Ng said. “They are a testament to our growing ties with Germany in the defense sector.”

Singapore’s defense ministry says that the submarines are custom-built to Singapore’s needs and designed for operations in the shallow and busy tropical waters around Singapore, with Ng further noting in his speech that “Singapore sits astride two of the busiest sea lines of communication in the world – the South China Sea and the Strait of Malacca – through which about one-third of the world’s maritime trade is transported”.

These customizations include sensors which allow the crew to have better situational awareness in the congested waters, and increased automation allowing the Type 218SG to operate with a relatively small crew of 28. Displacement of the 70-meters-long (230 feet) submarines is 2,200 tons submerged, and according to a factsheet released by the ministry, the boats are equipped with Fuel-Cell Air Independent Propulsion, giving them 50 percent longer endurance compared to Singapore’s earlier submarines.

Photos from the launch ceremony show the Type 218SG to be broadly similar to the Type 214 submarine, albeit with a lengthened hull and a reinforced bottom. There also appears to be provision for hull-mounted flank sonar arrays, and the X-shaped rudder configuration, as shown in earlier models and drawings of the class, would be an advantage in shallow water operations.

However, the submarine was positioned in such a way at the ceremony that there was no clear view of the eight torpedo tubes mounted at the bow, and thus it was impossible to see if any of the tubes are of a larger diameter, which would facilitate the launch of larger torpedoes, manned or unmanned underwater vehicles as well as divers for special operations.

A the launch ceremony, Singapore’s Defense Science and Technology Agency also signed an agreement with Thyssenkrupp Marine Systems covering the joint exploration of new technologies for naval applications. Under the pact, the company will test components created through additive manufacturing, or 3D-printing, on deployed Singaporean submarines.

The Invincible will now undergo a series of sea trials before delivery to Singapore in 2021, with the remaining three boats that are currently being built to be named Impeccable, Illustrious and Inimitable. The second boat is due for delivery in 2022, with the remaining two scheduled to follow as of 2024.

Singapore’s navy is currently operating two Challenger-class (Sjöormen class) and two Archer (Västergötland class) boats acquired second hand from Sweden and upgraded by Kockums (now part of Saab) beginning in the late 1990s.

Mike Yeo is the Asia correspondent for Defense News.

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