Singapore, Malaysia are Buying Aerostats for Surveillance

 - December 26, 2014, 7:00 AM
A TCOM aerostat in the 55-meter class will provide air and maritime surveillance in Singapore. (Photo: MINDEF Singapore)

Recent new export orders for aerostat-mounted surveillance systems have encouraged TCOM to suggest that the market share for lighter-than-air (LTA) systems is expanding, at the expense of conventional airborne solutions. The American LTA specialist company is providing a large, radar-carrying aerostat to the Singapore Ministry of Defence early next year, and also recently logged orders for smaller aerostats from neighboring Malaysia. TCOM also provides the very large aerostat for the JLens airborne threat detection system that is entering a three-year evaluation by NORAD on the eastern seaboard of the U.S.

Singapore’s defense minister said the country could save $27 million in annual operating costs by using the 55-meter (180 foot) class aerostat for airspace and maritime surveillance, although the country has no plans to retire its four-strong fleet of IAI Conformal Airborne Early Warning & control (CAEW) aircraft based on the Gulfstream G550 airframe. AIN believes that the Elta division of IAI is providing the multimode surveillance radar for the new Singapore aerostat; the Israeli company previously provided radars for aerostats deployed in India and Israel. Singapore does not officially acknowledge its use of Israeli defense systems, in deference to its Muslim-majority neighbors.

Aerostats manufactured by TCOM and other LTA providers have found widespread application in the U.S. and the Middle East, but not many carry large surveillance radars. Singapore said that its aerostat would be tethered at 2,000 feet to provide 24/7 low-level coverage at ranges of up to 125 miles, thereby overcoming the obstructions to clear line-of-sight that construction of tall buildings has created to the island’s ground-based radar system. It would be operated by a crew of eight. The Ministry of Defence acknowledged the potential problems to aerostat operations that would be posed by the congested local airspace and the frequency of thunderstorms, but said that measures to ensure safe operation have been devised. The aerostat will be tethered inside military territory on the northwest side of the island, and can be raised and lowered fairly rapidly by winch lines and a strong tether made of Kevlar. Some aerostat systems (including Jlens) include a dedicated weather radar to warn operators of approaching turbulence or electrical discharges.  

Malaysia will deploy smaller TCOM aerostats in the 12-to-17-meter class for maritime surveillance in its Eastern Sabah Security Zone. They will “solve critical domain awareness challenges in an area where armed incursions are common,” TCOM said. The type of sensor they will carry was not disclosed.

TCOM president Ron Bendlin noted that a new market research report suggests that the aerostat systems market will rise from $3.93 billion in 2014 to $9.96 billion by 2020.