Monday, December 21, 2015

Singapore's TeLEOS-1 satellite can serve Total Defence as eye in the sky

In a country where civilian assets such as trucks, planes and ships can be requisitioned for national defence, it should come as no surprise that there’s a part for space-based assets in Total Defence.

Singapore’s TeLEOS-1 satellite, now in orbit some 500km above the Equator, takes pictures with a 1-metre resolution when it passes the neighbourhood once every 100 minutes or so.

If you need a gadget to exemplify “see first, see more”, this is it.

When it comes to the ability to see above and beyond one’s border, the satellite is hard to beat.

The eye in the sky provides superior overwatch when applied to reconnaissance missions in support of maritime security and safety, Humanitarian Aid and Disaster Relief and environmental activity verification. It does not take a rocket scientist to figure out the many defence-linked recce applications for TeLEOS-1 too, should its optical sensors be focused on the right stuff.

But this commanding view comes with caveats: Acts of nature (cloud cover or the all-too-frequent thunderstorms) and acts of man (haze, camouflage, concealment, decoys) are potential spoilers that could foil one’s ability to achieve comprehensive awareness.

TeLEOS-1 can be viewed as another asset in Singapore’s multi-layered surveillance network that is quite literally multi-spectrum. These assets range from miniature UAVs launched by hand, F-16C/Ds with recce pods, ground-based radars big and small to airborne early warning assets such as the G550.

In time to come, the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) will presumably enlist TeLEOS-1’s lofty view of the region to provide yet another tier to its surveillance network.

The ability to update satellite images of the region every 90 minutes or so - rather than days - will be a game-changer for defence planners. This refresh rate will enable defence planners to better discern - sense-make in MINDEF/SAF-speak - the security situation around our city-state. 

But to fully maximise the satellite’s recce capabilities, TeLEOS-1 must be integrated with other surveillance assets and a rigorous process for analysing, interpreting and disseminating situation reports based on these satellite images.

Sense-making is sometimes more art than science. This explains why our defence eco-system needs to nurture a base of experienced operators who can fully exploit the potential of our new eye in the sky.

It may sound cliched but People are our greatest asset as our head start lofting a bespoke eye in the sky will eventually be closed by neighbouring countries once they too acquire such a capability. Treasure and nurture them well.

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Kamen Rider SG said...

Agrees with your analysis.
That aside, guess you are aware that a USN team had flown in an P-8A MPA to conduct demonstrations for Singapore defense officials.Based on your analysis David, is this a positive indication that Boeing P-8A is the likely choice for Fokker F-50 MPA replacement?

David Boey said...

@kamenridersg: When opportunities arise, SAF personnel have been introduced to weapon platforms and systems fielded by foreign forces. Such exchanges contribute to trust-building between the respective forces and are an essential component of defence diplomacy.

Best regards,


Gary said...

What would our neighbours say especilally those who would blame the wind for the haze in our region?

David Boey said...

Dear Gary,
The Indonesians are well aware how Singapore has employed satellite imagery to keep an eye on the neighbourhood. Regular updates posted by Singapore's National Environment Agency during haze season that pinpoint the source of fires in Sumatra and Kalimantan reinforce such awareness. But these updates have apparently failed to deter fire starters or galvanise action against errant plantation owners.

The NEA updates are drawn principally from commercial birds, i.e. SPOT Image.

The TeLEOS-1 satellite is custom-made. Why would Singapore invest in such a capability when you could buy images from a commercial vendor? Because the bespoke bird gives a secret edge that the civilian sector cannot provide.

A citizen armed forces on this little red dot cannot threaten a country whose population is the fourth biggest in the world. But the record since Confrontation - undeclared war, theatrics involving sand and granite shipments, foot dragging over the Defence Cooperation Agreement, snide remarks ever so often - indicates why we have to build friendships while building one's defence readiness.

One would hope discerning TNI officials and defence officials around the region understand this.


Kamen Rider SG said...

Dear David, noted on your input.


Unknown said...

Pretty sure the Indonesians are aware of the capabilities of the newly launched satellite.

Just curious though, would our Mindef use it the way NSA use their satellites?