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From deadly mines to enemy incursions, this navy captain watches out for dangers of the deep

Caption: The Republic of Singapore Navy has given Captain Surya Bhat plenty of opportunities to hone his leadership skills and develop a sense of responsibility. PHOTO: MINISTRY OF DEFENCE

By Bryant Chan

Of all the warships in the Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN), it is perhaps the Formidable-class frigates that are most adept in multidimensional warfare.   

These powerful vessels pack a full complement of Harpoon and Aster missiles, OTO Melara 76mm guns and Whitehead torpedoes, and are further integrated with the S-70B Seahawk Naval Helicopters to sense faster, see and strike farther – making them more than capable to deal with air, surface and underwater threats. 

While surface and air threats can be detected by most warships, submarines and mines remain largely undetectable to all except ships with the most advanced sonar systems. 

This is where Captain (CPT) Surya Bhat and his crew come in. As an underwater warfare officer, CPT Surya deals with any sub-surface threats faced by the Formidable-class frigate, RSS Stalwart, be it incoming torpedoes or underwater incursions. 

Be it conducting deck operations, planning training regimens or keeping watch for hours on end even in the dead of night, the sheer volume of tasks that CPT Surya undertakes on a daily basis as the Assistant Operations Officer aboard RSS Stalwart sounds overwhelming, but he relishes the opportunity to put himself to the test. In fact, it was the prospect of overcoming such challenges that attracted him to a career in the RSN, despite having a long-time interest in law. 

As a midshipman in Officer Cadet School, he put his mental and physical capabilities to the test in gruelling training – which ranged from navigational exercises at sea or large-scale force-on-force battle simulations.

Yet, CPT Surya found an immense sense of satisfaction in overcoming obstacles he had previously thought were impossible. 

Becoming a naval officer did not mean that CPT Surya had to give up his dream of pursuing law. The Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) Merit Scholarship gave him access to a world-class education at University College London and New York University. 

Taking up law – a subject that is often inundated with information – ended up being useful in unexpected ways. “Because you have so much information to process, studying law helps you focus more on the development of critical thinking and clarity of thought, rather than the volume of content.”

And in the heat of battle, clarity of thought is of utmost importance. Rising above a deluge of situational reports and tactical data, CPT Surya processes and relays information, formulates strategies, and coordinates operations with practised ease. 

A valedictorian of the inaugural Naval Specialisation Officers’ Course, he led his crew in Guam as part of Exercise Pacific Griffin, a bilateral maritime exercise with the United States Navy. 

“The SAF and RSN have given me the opportunity, at a young age, to grow as a leader, hone my leadership and coaching skills, and develop a sense of responsibility,” he says. “I don’t think I would have had similar experiences outside of the SAF and RSN.”


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