Singapore places heavy emphasis on airborne surveillance as a key element within its air defence and maritime operations. Manpower constraints have prompted the Ministry of Defence to focus on unmanned vehicles for emerging airborne, land, surface and sub-surface applications.

Since about 1998, a Centre for Unmanned Systems team, under the leadership of Dr Tan Jiak Kwang, has been exploring unmanned aircraft concepts to provide continuous surveillance coverage (with integrated communications) over very large areas.

A result of this programme has been the LALEE (low-altitude long enduring endurance) UAV requirement, the 'low altitude' being in comparison with satellites, since the aircraft was intended to fly at 60,000ft (18,000m) or more. The Singaporean team drew up plans for a huge Boeing 737-sized UAV.


Sometimes described as a battle management drone, LALEE is more likely to emerge as a surveillance platform, and may have been influenced by US Navy studies into using MRE (multi-role endurance) UAV to replace some or all of its P-3 Orions in the maritime reconnaissance role.

It is by no means certain that Singapore will opt for a UAV to replace its E-2s and Fokker 50s, although the economic advantages are obvious. A UAV designed for the continuous coverage mission would need to fly about 10,000h per year; with an hourly operating cost of $1,000 and a capital cost of $50 million, such a solution would pay for itself in fiver years.

Singapore reportedly at one time considered the Burt Rutan-designed Scaled Composites Proteus as the basis of a LALEE UAV, with the type's ability to be flown in manned configuration offering useful advantages for peacetime training, or when operation in controlled airspace was required. Other reports have highlighted the Hermes 1500, already in Singapore air force service as a possible basis for a LALEE platform.

Singapore has also studied a number of smaller UAVs, including the VTOL Tailsitter (described as 'smaller than a golf bag') and the 'palm-sized' Sparrow.


At Asian Aerospace, Singapore Technologies Aerospace is showing its innovative Fantail UAV. This small UAV is said to be particularly suitable for urban reconnaissance and airfield defence. It is small enough to manoeuvre between obstacles with great precision, and large enough to withstand wind and gusts. The aircraft has an autonomous flight control system, a terrain avoidance system, and a very economical low-noise engine.

Singapore Technologies Aerospace points out that the aircraft is a showcase for its capabilities, from analysis to conceptualisation, design, prototyping and systems integration


Source: Flight Daily News