Defense Highlights at the Singapore Airshow

 - February 14, 2014, 5:16 AM
The Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) reformed its Black Knights aerobatic team to perform daily at the Singapore Airshow. (Photo: MINDEF Singapore/K. Tokunaga)

This week’s Singapore Airshow brought only one significant new launch, when Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) unveiled the Super Heron UAV. But as usual, there were plenty of defense requirements to discuss. These included Singapore’s desire to upgrade its F-16 fighters, and maritime surveillance requirements around the region.

The Super Heron has a heavy fuel (diesel) engine that will aid deployability in austere environments. Moreover, the more powerful powerplant from DieselJet FIAT allows an increase in mtow, rate of climb and maximum speed. The Super Heron was displayed in Singapore with an impressive array of sensors, which have a new interface to the airframe. The first flight was last October.

All the contenders vying for the potentially large F-16 upgrade market were at the show. Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman were stressing their heritage as the F-16 OEM and radar supplier, respectively, as a reason to follow the U.S. Air Force and Taiwan in choosing their F-16V configuration. BAE Systems and Raytheon were showing their proposals for the airframe and radar, respectively, after winning the competition in Korea. (Please note that an editing error in our printed edition of Singapore Airshow News on Thursday incorrectly stated that Taiwan and the U.S. had chosen Raytheon’s RACR radar when, in fact, they have chosen the rival SABR from Northrop Grumman). Singapore is expected to be the next country to proceed with an upgrade; it remains to be seen whether the island state will entertain a competition, or continue negotiating for only the LM/NG solution.

The static park contained two maritime surveillance aircraft (MSA) that could win new customers in the region. Airbus Military brought a Portuguese air force C295 MPA, and the Pentagon provided a Boeing P-8 Poseidon. Declaring that not everyone needs the full P-8 capability, Boeing is also offering a modified Bombardier Challenger 605 business jet as an MSA, as a lower-cost option. Boeing also was promoting, with Bell Helicopter, the MV-22 Osprey, which featured in the daily flying display.

The Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) made a big showing on its home ground, with a large static display and pavilion, and the Black Knights F-16 aerobatic team. As at previous shows, Lockheed Martin displayed a full-scale F-35 model in RSAF markings, but there was no indication that the country is close to buying the stealth fighter. AIN sources described as premature reports that the RSAF has ordered the Airbus A330MRTT to replace aging KC-135 tankers. However, the RSAF did display one new acquisition: the Thales GroundMaster 200 air defense radar.

Northrop Grumman described progress in placing Global Hawk UAVs with the Japanese and Korean air forces. Rafael unveiled a new system to destroy short-range rockets and mortars, and low-flying UAVs, named Iron Beam. It uses a high-energy laser, rather than the projectiles that are used in the same company’s Iron Dome system. Saab showed the ESTL podded countermeasures protection system for combat aircraft, previously designated BOH. Singapore Technologies Aerospace described its C-130 upgrade capability; an RSAF C-130H that has received the glass cockpit was on display.