Thursday, 30 October 2014

Aerostat: Singapore to get giant 'eye' in the sky

By Jermyn Chow Defence Correspondent, The Straits Times, 29 Oct 2014

A GIANT balloon, equipped with sophisticated radar equipment, will watch over Singapore from early next year.

The 55m-long helium-filled teardrop, known as an aerostat, will hover at around 600m - more than twice the height of UOB Plaza One, Singapore's tallest building. It can spot hostile threats from as far as 200km away, double the distance covered by the Republic's ground radars.

It can scan up to Malacca for straying light aircraft, for instance, and detect small boats coming in from Indonesia's Pekanbaru. The information will be shared with other security agencies such as the coast guard.

The balloon, which Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen yesterday called "the protector in the sky", will be tethered to the ground inside a military camp, but Dr Ng did not disclose where, or how much it will cost.

Experts, however, said the blimp should not be surrounded by tall buildings or be near areas with plenty of flying activity.

Dr Ng said that it will improve the country's surveillance capabilities "significantly", by filling in the gap caused by tall buildings here blocking Singapore's existing early-warning systems.

"In order for you to see far, you have to be either very high and you make sure that no buildings block you... but we are also building up 40-storey buildings. Soon, I expect maybe even 50-storey or higher buildings," said Dr Ng, at a ceremony to recognise personnel whose ideas cut cost or improve productivity.



It will also be cheaper to launch and operate the aerostat, which will be run by the Republic of Singapore Air Force, than fly Gulfstream 550 surveillance planes round the clock.

The balloon will save $29 million in operating costs a year, said Dr Ng, stressing that "it can be airborne 24/7". "It is unmanned, cost effective, and sustainable."

Singapore is the first South-east Asian country to get such a high-tech balloon, which has been used by military and law enforcement agencies in the US, Britain and India since the 1980s. US troops use aerostats with cameras to spot insurgents in Afghanistan.

Associate Professor Ng Teng Yong, acting head of the Aerospace Engineering Division at the Nanyang Technological University, does not rule out the possibility of Singapore installing cameras on its own aerostat, which might raise privacy concerns.

But he called it a "game-changer". He said: "It will allow you to see a lot more, for a much longer time, but at a lower cost."





















* Launch of military blimp delayed
It is still undergoing tests to make sure it meets RSAF's safety and operational requirements
By Jermyn Chow, Defence Correspondent, The Sunday Times, 7 Feb 2016

Safety concerns have, for now, grounded plans by the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) to fly a radar-equipped balloon that can spot hostile threats coming from as far as Malacca.

The 55m-long helium-filled military blimp, known as an aerostat, was supposed to be airborne early last year to watch over Singapore.


But its launch was delayed because the giant balloon's United States-based manufacturer TCOM has failed to meet the RSAF's safety and operational requirements, The Sunday Times has learnt.

The yet-to-be-delivered aerostat will likely be tethered to the ground inside a military camp in the western part of Singapore.

A Defence Ministry spokesman cited "delays in delivery" yesterday, saying: "It is still undergoing rigorous testing by the manufacturer to ensure it meets the RSAF's stringent operational requirements and high safety standards."

The blimp will be secured with high-strength winch lines and a tether "built to withstand strong winds and lightning strikes". Its radiation emissions will be "as safe as those of mobile phones" and its radars will be certified to the same standards required for mobile phones and microwave ovens.

"The RSAF will apply safety procedures that are in line with the regulations developed by the US Federal Aviation Authority," said the spokesman. The air force is working with the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore to plan its safe operation in Singapore airspace.

If the launch goes ahead, Singapore will be the first South-east Asian country with such a balloon.

US military leaders use aerostats to protect Washington DC against airborne threats and spot insurgents in Afghanistan. But last October, one blimp broke free from its mooring in Maryland and flew 240km, disrupting civil aviation and damaging power lines.



Designed to operate round the clock, Singapore's blimp will hover at around 600m - more than twice the height of UOB Plaza One, Singapore's tallest building.

It can spot hostile threats from as far as 200km away, double the distance covered by ground radars. It can scan up to Malacca for straying light aircraft, for instance, and detect small boats coming in from Indonesia's Pekanbaru. Information will be shared with other security agencies, such as the coast guard.

Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen, who in October 2014 announced plans for its launch, called it the "protector in the sky" and said it would be cheaper than flying surveillance planes.

Associate Professor Ng Teng Yong of Nanyang Technological University's School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering said it is crucial for the RSAF to "get its own aerostat right... as a runaway blimp could possibly drift into Indonesian or Malaysian territory".





** Military blimp ready for local testing after delay

By Calvin Yang, The Straits Times, 30 Nov 2016

A military blimp, which will give Singapore extra eyes in the sky to detect possible aerial and maritime threats, is ready for testing locally.

The radar-equipped aerostat, which takes a crew of eight to operate, was supposed to be airborne early last year to watch over Singapore, but needed to complete stringent safety tests at manufacturer TCOM's facility in the United States. The tethered balloon has now been set up at Choa Chu Kang Camp and will go through a series of tests for a year before it is ready to be put into operation.

The 55m-long helium-filled balloon can spot hostile threats from as far as 200km away, enhancing Singapore's aerial and maritime security.

Existing systems are facing increasing constraints. This is mainly due to the construction of taller buildings, which prevent them from establishing a clear line of sight and make it challenging to monitor threats.

When operational, the aerostat, which can hover as high as 600m, will be able to offer round-the- clock surveillance. It will complement the Singapore Armed Forces' suite of airborne and ground- based sensors to identify potential threats early.



Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen, who visited the aerostat yesterday, said it would give Singapore an added layer of confidence.

"All of us recognise that Singapore is a very small island, and that alone makes us vulnerable to threats, either from the air or sea," he added. "(The aerostat) adds another layer of defence..."

When asked about the delay, Dr Ng, who in October 2014 announced plans for its launch, said: "We wanted to be doubly sure that when deployed, it would be safe."

According to the Defence Ministry, the aerostat will be secured to its ground mooring station with high-strength winch lines and a tether built to withstand strong winds and lightning strikes.

It added that radiation emissions from the radar equipment on the aerostat will be "as safe as that of mobile phones".








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