This weekend's photo call for the ASEAN Defence Ministers' Meeting (ADMM)-Plus Maritime Security segment gave MV Avatar a chance to show off her new look.
Avatar, (callsign S6KF), a blue ensign "general cargo vessel" leased to serve the Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN), has been extensively modified to support helicopter operations.
Two prominent deck landing spots replace her derrick cranes forward of the bridge. These are understood to be rated for medium-lift helicopters such as Super Pumas/Cougars. With the heli deck in place, the cargo holds cannot be accessed as readily as before.
Avatar is no stranger to maritime counter terrorism exercises. In November 2011, Avatar was the target vessel for Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) Special Operations Task Force counter terrorism operatives during Exercise Northstar VIII. Images of the exercise show Avatar's deck cranes swung aside to allow the insertion of counter terrorism teams via fast rope.
Her new look recalls modifications made to Allied and Axis merchant vessels during the Second World War when cargo vessels and passenger liners emerged from shipyards as aircraft carriers.
In the 1980s, Britain's Royal Navy requisitioned merchant vessels such as the Atlantic Conveyor in the lead-up to Operation Corporate which led to the recapture of the Falkland/Malvinas islands from Argentine forces.
Avatar sports a more extensive rebuild than Atlantic Conveyor, as seen by the new flight deck. However, no hangar facilities are provided for embarked naval aviation nor is a deck lift visible to bring helos below deck.
The addition of two landing spots to Avatar means the RSN possesses a theoretical maximum effort capability of 10 helo landing spots - eight aboard the four 141-metre long Endurance-class tank landing ships and two aboard Avatar. This is sufficient to carry out a company-size helicopter insertion from these vessels.
It should be remembered that each Endurance-class LST can already land a battalion-size team using embarked landing craft of the FCEP and FCU series.
Here are some fun facts about MV Avatar:
- At 173.5m long, Avatar is the longest vessel available to the RSN that can operate helicopters.
- Avatar is also the longest Ro-Ro that routinely serves the SAF.
- Avatar was the only vessel deployed to serve the RSN with its own swimming pool.