Tuesday, October 28, 2014

When the balloon goes up: Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) aerostat to perform sentry duty

Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) radar-equipped aerostat by numbers 

Sometime next year, the Republic of Singapore Air Force will begin deploying a radar-equipped aerostat for aerial and maritime surveillance. Minister for Defence, Dr Ng Eng Hen, announced this today at the Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) PRIDE Day 2014 awards presentation ceremony held at Nanyang Polytechnic.

PRIDE, which means PRoductivity and Innovation in Daily Efforts, is a productivity initiative that also encourages Singapore's defence eco-system to think out of the box and be bold and creative in solving everyday challenges.

Out of the box solutions seldom come bigger than the 55-metre long American-made TCOM aerostats, which are estimated to result in savings of some $29.2 million a year providing long-range radar surveillance compared to conventional airborne radar coverage once fully operational.

An exhibit that explains the aerostat's role in Singapore's national defence can be found at the MINDEF PRIDE Day 2014 Exhibition, held at the Nanyang Polytechnic from 28 October till 30 October from 10am to 4pm. 

8: Ground crew are required to operate the sensor

24/7: Duty hours and days on watch for the aerostat

29.2: The cost savings, in Singapore dollars, per year from operating the aerostat versus AEW

55: Length in metres of this tethered balloon made by TCOM 

200: Range, in kilometres, that the aerostat's radar can detect objects

2015: Initial operational capability for the aerostats

2,000: The operating ceiling, in feet, that the aerostat can reach 

The phrase "when the balloon goes up" takes on a whole new meaning when radar-equipped balloons belonging to the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) are installed at a certain place to detect, identify and track air and maritime contacts.

The tethered balloons or aerostats will help with sense-making of the air situation picture by extending the radar horizon some 2,000 feet above ground and up to 200 km away, which is about double the range of terrestrial radar emitters. This task is already a complex one in peacetime owing to the large number of flying objects around this place.

The aerostats will complement the suite of ground and building-based sensors fielded by the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF). These include ground-based radars and truck-mounted gap-filler radars such as the Giraffe AMB, airborne radar watch provided by Gulfstream G550 CAEW aircraft, Fokker 50 Utility aircraft modified for surface search and ACSR radars mounted on HDB flats and buildings thought to be linked to the Republic of Singapore Navy's coastal surveillance network. 

The overlapping coverage of these emitters, when collated and analysed at the SAF's Armed Forces Command Post together with intelligence gathered by overhead imagery and other assets, present SAF defence planners with info-fusion and sense-making capabilities that were unheard of just a decade ago.

Once the aerostats go into service, they will add a new and unmistakeable feature to the landscape when hauled to ground level for maintenance. At 55 m in length - slightly longer than an Olymic-size pool - and 8,554 cubic metres in volume, the aerostat's sheer size makes it difficult to hide from nosey people outside the fenceline, which means that sooner or later, someone will notice. :-)

At their operational ceiling thousands of feet above ground level, the aerostat will be hardly visible to ground observers. However, that vantage point gives the aerostat's sensors better visibility. Being higher allows the emitter to see far and see more.

The job of keeping the aerostat flying is complex too.

Among the issues that have to be sorted out before the aerostat goes aloft is that of deconflicting airspace. A cylinder of airspace several kilometres in diameter around the aerostat probably needs to be sanitised to keep a safe distance between aircraft, the aerostat itself and, more importantly, the cable that anchors the aerostat to the ground on the mainland. The last item will be near invisible to pilots flying about in high performance aircraft.

Lightning protection will be another point to consider. With millions of dollars worth of sensitive electronics in the air of one of the most lightning prone areas of the globe, defence engineers have to ensure the investment does not fry the moment a lightning bolt zaps the machine.

If it works as planned, the aerostat will herald exciting times for airspace watchers in that place.

You may also like:
When the balloon goes up: Radar-equipped aerostats to perform sentry duty. Click here

Guide to radars and defence equipment installed on HDB blocks and commercial buildings in Singapore. Click here 

Evaluate need for RSAF Space Command. Click here

When the RSAF gives ground. Another RSAF base may make way for urban renewal. Click here


Unknown said...

If i recall correctly, i read from 1local newspaper stating that the aerostat is alsl able to detect the movement of mobile missles launchers on ground. I wonder how true is it given the profile of a missile launcher is very much similar to a lorry for civilian use; how will the aerostat differentiate it?

In anycase, it sounds like this asset gives sg a quantum leap in terms of it monitoring/surveillance capabilities. Good job RSAF.

Unknown said...

Dear David,

A quick visit to Elta and IAI would give you an approximate idea as to the possible fit out for said stated Aerostat.

The listed specs on the brochceures are respectively 16m 32m and 71m. The 32m has a listed radar and EO range of over 2Okm with SAR and EO. The 71m being the high attitude platform

55m means a larger platform , larger more capable payload and a higher height capability, it sticking at 2000 feet no way in my view.

Possible uses well in my view its a BIG brother in the SKY. The elta website list Cellular Interception and or SIGINT payloads.