Andrew Doyle/SINGAPORE

Singapore has recruited US designer Burt Rutan to help it complete preliminary design work on a long-endurance, surveillance unmanned air vehicle (UAV) that could eventually replace the country's Northrop Grumman E-2C Hawkeyes.

The "LALEE" (Low-Altitude, Long Enduring Endurance) project was revealed at the Republic of Singapore Navy's Naval Platform Technology Seminar by ministry of defence (Mindef) chief scientist Lui Pao Chuen. The term "long enduring" refers to the vehicle's service-life.

"We have completed a three year study of LALEE which is an integrated airborne surveillance and communications system, designed to give continuous temporal coverage over a large area," says Lui.

"Providing a task group operating in the littorals with continuous air surveillance from this class of UAVwill be considerably cheaper than operating current surveillance and communications platforms," he adds.

The LALEE UAV is understood to be a twin-boom, single-span aircraft which carries sensors in a central pod. Details of the vehicle's dimensions and performance have not been released.

Chuen, however, was quoted by local media as saying the radar is "about eight metres long by one and a half metres deep...and you can replace it with a smaller pod if carrying other types of sensors".

The UAV is being worked on by engineers from the Mindef, the Defence Science and Technology Agency and Singapore Technologies Engineering in partnership with Rutan, its designer.

"The next step would be for us to take the design and build a proof-of-concept prototype aircraft, and at the same time prepare for full-scale development," says Lui in Singapore's government-allied Business Times newspaper.

Lui claims that France, Sweden and the USAhave expressed interest in collaborating on the UAV. Sources familiar with the project say that the concept is seen as a potential long-term replacement for four recently-upgraded E-2Cs acquired in the 1980s.

The LALEE is designed to be cheaper to operate than conventional UAVs. It will be used to provide Singaporean warships with continuous long-range coverage during a conflict.

Source: Flight International