IS SINGAPORE BUILDING AN AIRCRAFT CARRIER IN DISGUISE?

Ever since the Defense Minister of Singapore, Dr, Ng Eng Hen talked about the prospect of acquiring what is called a Joint Multi-Mission Ship (JMMS) in late June last year, speculations about the true nature of this vessel—allegedly an aircraft carrier in disguise—have been swirling.

Most recently, writing for DefenceAviation, Marvin Diaz noted, “it doesn’t take an expert to look beyond the pretentious façade of the vessel.” But perhaps Singapore is not trying to be pretentious at all.

Beyond Physical Characteristics

The International Institute of Strategic Studies (IISS) defines an aircraft carrier as a ship “with a flight deck that extends beyond two-thirds of the vessel’s length.” Yet there is no accepted standard definition of what constitutes an aircraft carrier. Countries that acquire carriers may categorize them as whatever is politically expedient.

(Recommended: The Five Greatest Aircraft Carriers of All Time)

For example, the Soviets called their Kiev-class aircraft carriers “large aviation-carrying cruisers” to circumvent the Montreux Convention so as to be able to sail through the Bosporus Strait. The Japanese called their Hyuga and larger follow-up Izumo classes “helicopter destroyers” in order to avoid misperceptions.

So indeed, the JMMS fits the “aircraft carrier” criterion insofar as physical characteristics are concerned, going by the IISS definition.

But Singapore has not labeled it as a JMMS in order to obscure its true purpose as an aircraft carrier. Beyond physical characteristics, it is necessary to examine the inherent design of the vessel, as well as looking at it as a system of systems, in order to decipher its actual roles and functions. In other words, a ship may have the physical characteristics of an aircraft carrier but it may not be optimally designed as one. More importantly, it may make little strategic sense to be deployed as such.

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