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Basic design - What is required to create the world's most versatile ships?

5 min read + Video

Creating an efficient naval ship is a significant compromise. There are many, often conflicting requirements that must be set against each other. It should be a ship with good characteristics for operating in archipelagos and at sea, such as speed, stability, and fuel consumption. 

The onboard environment should function well for the crew so that they can live together for extended periods while performing advanced tasks. The ship should also have the capabilities required for various missions, such as firing torpedoes and missiles, all while being difficult to detect and resistant to enemy mines and attacks.

As a designer and shipbuilder at Saab, one must master a wide range of areas to deliver a world-class ship or submarine. The ability to compile all the requirements and then create comprehensive drawings and descriptions is called “Basic design”. This is where the ship's performance and capabilities are specified through drawings and technical descriptions. Various types of tests and verifications are carried out during the process, such as data simulations, model tests in water pools to verify seakeeping performance, and sometimes wind tunnel tests to ensure that a helicopter can land onboard in various wind conditions and weather.


Afterward, detailed design is carried out, which is used for the actual ship construction. Basic design, detailed design, and construction can all be done by one company, but often the work is divided amongst specialists in their respective areas. Saab has extensive experience in all these areas. Based on the customer's requirements and our own experience, we choose the best approach to complete the project.

The Swedish Visby corvettes


The Swedish Visby corvettes were developed and built in the late 1990s and launched in the early 2000s. Despite being more than 20 years old, they are still unique and world-leading in many aspects of their design. In addition to their low signature (stealth, low detectability), they are extremely versatile and flexible.

They were developed to perform a variety of tasks, such as surveillance and targeting surface targets with missiles and torpedoes. In addition, the corvettes can also search for and neutralise mines, submarines and carry helicopters onboard. All this in one of the most complex maritime environments with tens of thousands of islands, varying salinity, and fluctuating temperatures, the Baltic Sea.

In most other countries, separate ships are often used to accomplish these tasks. But in a small country like Sweden, we must be smart and versatile. Together with FMV (The Swedish Defence Materiel Administration), extensive work was done to find the ultimate combination. A ship made of carbon fiber composite with low weight and advanced stealth capabilities. Five were built, inspiring entirely new types of ships around the world. 

Independence-class Littoral Mission Vessel (LMV) for Singapore


As a spin-off from the work on the Visby corvettes, Saab was commissioned by Singapore in 2012 to develop the overall design of a versatile vessel for patrol, surveillance, and naval combat. This vessel was named LMV - Littoral Mission Vessel. Here too, the task was to combine many capabilities into a relatively small vessel.

Through close collaboration with the Singaporean customer and the shipyard where the ships would be built, Saabs engineers created a hybrid-construction, a basic design for a vessel with a steel hull and a composite superstructure. This provided the best of both worlds, cost-effectiveness in construction, high performance, and the potential for a wide range of capabilities.

Detailed construction was carried out at the shipyard in Singapore, including the construction of the steel hull. Saab performed detailed design and built and delivered the composite superstructures. Everything was then assembled in Singapore. The first of eight Independence-class vessels was launched in 2015.

Pictures of the composite superstructures

Multi-Role Combat Vessel - Larger, more powerful, and flexible for Singapore

Thanks to long and close collaboration with the Singapore Navy and DSTA (their equivalent of FMV), in 2021 Saab once again received the trusted task to carry out the basic design for a new class of vessels. This time, the task involves a larger vessel, essentially a frigate. That is, a vessel well over 100 meters in length and with a displacement between 5,000 to 10,000 tons.

The size of the vessels is not the only challenge. They must also be equipped with a range of new capabilities and systems, many of which are not yet standard in the market. In addition to traditional weapon systems such as torpedoes and missiles for both air and sea targets, the vessels should also be able to serve as a command and control ship for unmanned vehicles. These vehicles should be able to operate in the air, on the sea, and below the surface.

In this case Saabs engineers are faced with challenges in how to create flexibility, all while maintaining the fundamental functions of the vessels in terms of endurance, protection, and effectiveness. At the same time, there is a requirement that the vessel should be operatable by a relatively small crew.

The work on the basic design is soon to be completed, and the detailed construction process will begin at the shipyard in Singapore, which will build the vessels. A total of six vessels in the new class are planned, with the first vessel in the class expected to be operational around 2030 according to publicly available information in Singapore.

Experience and Innovation

To create a flexible and future-proof vessel, both extensive experience and the ability to innovate are required. Saab’s business area Kockums has a fundamental knowledge base from over 330 years of shipbuilding. Combined with new technology from collaborations with academia, FMV, the Swedish Navy, as well as other companies and stakeholders in the naval industry, we ensure that our clients receive a design that combines a multitude of, and sometimes conflicting, requirements. In short, we are world leaders in basic design for advanced surface combat vessels.