The Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN) has proposed a regional framework for submarine operations safety, as the growing number of submarines and surface ships traversing the shallow waters of the South China Sea means that the situation “is an accident waiting to happen”, said Chief of Navy Rear Admiral Lai Chung Han on Wednesday (May 20).
Speaking at a panel discussion during the 2015 International Maritime Security Conference (IMSC), RADM Lai estimated that the navies of the Asia Pacific could operate more than 130 diesel electric submarines by 2020.
“If you ask submariners, they will tell you in the waters 30m to 50m in the South China Sea (SCS) and with heavy surface traffic, the SCS is in fact a two-dimensional rather than three-dimensional space,” he said.
On Tuesday, RSN and the United States Navy signed a memorandum agreement on Joint Standard Operating Procedures for mutual submarine rescue support. But Singapore wants to build on these efforts and establish a regional framework for submarine operations safety.
As the issue of mapping submarine operations is a sensitive topic for many countries in the region, Singapore’s proposal is to get the ball rolling by exchanging information so as to build trust and confidence. “We can start by exchanging information on oil rigs and very large crude carriers with the Information Fusion Centre (IFC) in Changi supporting the network by setting up a dedicated submarine information portal,” said RADM Lai.
The IFC was set up in 2009 to share information on maritime security and the shipping of weapons. It has a network of 13 military navies and 51 civilian shipping firms globally.
While the other navy chiefs attending IMSC were generally supportive of RSN’s proposal, they highlighted the need to strike a balance between submarine operational safety and defence information security.
Commander of the Chinese South Sea Fleet, Rear Admiral Shen Jinlong, pointed out that it was a constructive and necessary proposal but the benefits needed to be weighed against the sensitive nature of the information.
Said Australian Chief of Navy Vice Admiral Timothy Barrett: “It is about developing the level of trust so that we can share what is in each of our own systems rather than to try to develop a single positional system (for the submarines).”