Saturday, February 23, 2013
Time to evaluate need for Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) Space Command
For a country that can requisition civilian assets like trucks and even factories during a national emergency, the earth observation satellite that government-linked ST Electronics said it is developing will literally shoot Singapore's Requisition of Resources Act (RORA) into a new orbit.
To stay ahead of the curve, the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) should consider acquiring the subject matter expertise needed to understand, appreciate and leverage on the advantages of space-based assets.
Grouped under a notional Space Command organisation, the organisation will be best placed to guide and provide the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) with accurate, relevant and timely advice on all space-related matters.
At present, folks at the SAF Joint Services organisation called the Imagery Support Group (ISG) are the ones to talk to for all matters related to remote sensing imagery. But there is a big difference from being a consumer of satellite images captured by other platforms and being able to directly influence satellite activity with one of your own birds.
Singapore's remote sensing bird
The ST Electronics remote sensing satellite, TeLEOS-1, packs the potential to change the way the RSAF keeps Singapore's skies clear of aerial intruders 24/7.
A ST Electronics news release on TeLEOS-1, couched in civilian language that domesticated its capabilities, described what it can do:"TeLEOS-1 is designed to orbit around the equator, at an orbital height of about 550km, and with an update rate of 90 minutes, it will provide satellite images of 1 metre ground sampling distance from an electro-optics camera.
"The satellite images can be used for disaster monitoring and management, mineral exploration, precision farming, environmental monitoring, climate change studies, agriculture resource studies and management, maritime and coastal observation, urban planning and homeland security."
It should be obvious that the key advantage is not the 1 metre resolution - this is already available from commercial remote sensing companies - but the update rate of 90 minutes.
But its game-changing attributes can be exploited only if the RSAF has a core group of professionals trained to think and look beyond the obvious in order to fully exploit such advantages.
Going Beyond the Obvious
A core group of Space-oriented RSAF officers and Military Experts would place the SAF on a firmer footing when the time comes to decide how Singapore could benefit from satellite technology.
At a baseline level of knowledge, exposure to Space-oriented military organisations in other countries would help build local expertise needed to answer the basic question of whether such an organisation is needed in the first place.
In a way, it parallels the SAF's experience with diesel-electric submarines: We bought a batch of Swedish SSKs to evaluate if the Republic of Singapore Navy would need such capabilities. As a test of logic, this boggles the mind. But the RSN's submariner force should thank pioneers who tinkered with the Challenger-class boats in local waters for shaping 171 Squadron's SSK force into what it is today.
Until and unless we learn from the best, our understanding of space will have to be an extension of what the RSAF's Air Defence and Operations Command (ADOC) can tell us. However, operations in low earth orbit may be different from air ops which employ air breathing platforms, weapons and sensors.
With Singaporean universities and research houses powering ahead to acquire know-how of space, the RSAF should do likewise. Space is the new frontier. Really.
From an organisational development perspective, the RSAF's upcoming leadership renewal puts the air force in a commanding position to understand how air surveillance can or should move up the value chain to embrace space-based assets.
Our incoming Chief of Air Force (CAF), Brigadier-General Hoo Cher Mou does not wear wings. But he does have a deeper understanding of the complex task of air surveillance and a firsthand experience of what units like 2(deleted)(deleted) Squadron do daily than most pilots. This is because he grew up in the complex air defence and surveillance environment criss-crossed by air lanes fed by Southeast Asia's busiest airport, which can log as many as 62 air movements per hour during its peak load.[Note: This does not degrade the value of pilots posted to that squadron as they bring an airman's perspective to the air situation picture. The point is BG Hoo's subject matter expertise was honed in the air surveillance realm from the start, which means his perspective of sensors may be different from a flier's.]
If anyone can understand how complex space surveillance is, BG Hoo can.
The Singapore air force's tentative step into maturing into a space force may come sooner than you think. This could take place when one of its oldest weapon systems, the (deleted), is said to be due for replacement by the (deleted) - not a military secret because logically it cannot continue to go on forever.
That changing of the guard - in our view one of the world's most asymmetrical yet interesting weapon replacement projects - provides the opportunity for the RSAF to up its game.
We can already exploit advantages above and beyond the fenceline. If you know what this means, no elaboration is necessary.
We have the means to read situations that are beyond the obvious.
Future opportunity is there. It is left to RSAF officers and specialist to take up the challenge.
Space cadets, please step forward.
Posted by David Boey at 10:27 AM