Singapore Air Show

Singapore: When Will the Balloon Go Up?

 - February 16, 2016, 12:00 PM
Despite concerns about effectiveness and airspace compatibility, Singapore’s plans to deploy an early-warning aerostat remain in place.

Singapore expects the delayed delivery of its surveillance radar-carrying aerostat this year, but has not specified when the system will become operational. Eyebrows were raised when the acquisition was announced, because of the island’s crowded airspace and dynamic weather patterns. The Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) told AIN that it would “ensure that the system meets our stringent operational and safety requirements,” in line with FAA regulations. The RSAF has been working the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS) on these.

Safety issues with aerostats received widespread attention last October when a U.S. Army/Raytheon JLENS 71-meter balloon broke free of its mooring and drifted across Pennsylvania for four hours before coming down. That same month, with less publicity, a British Royal Air Force Puma helicopter crashed after colliding with the tether of a smaller aerostat in Kabul, Afghanistan.

The 55-meter aerostat for Singapore is being supplied by TCOM of the U.S., but the prime contractor and radar supplier is probably IAI-Elta Systems. The Israeli company has supplied the ELM-2083 L-band AESA (active electronically scanned array) radar for at least two large aerostats deployed by India, where fellow Israeli company Rafael was the prime contractor.

While smaller, camera-carrying aerostats have been widely deployed in conflict zones for local surveillance, only a few countries have acquired larger radar-carrying ones. They include Israel, Kuwait, the UAE and the U.S., where the Lockheed Martin (LM) L-88 system is deployed at nine sites along the Mexican border to detect low-flying aircraft. These aerostats offer the attraction of extending the ground radar horizon for airspace surveillance, and remaining on station for up to 30 days at a time.

For the greatest coverage, these aerostats would be tethered at between 15,000 to 20,000 feet, from where they have the potential to detect fighter-sized targets at 200 nm. But Singapore said it was seeking to overcome the problem of ground radar being masked by tall buildings, and would only operate its aerostat at 2,000 feet.

The RSAF currently deploys an LM FPS-117 ground air defense radar on Bukit Timah, the island’s highest point, and told AIN that “it continues to serve us well.” AIN has been told that Singapore was seeking a dual-mode system that performed equally, if not better, as a maritime surveillance asset. IAI may therefore be mounting an X-band radar such as the EL-2022 on the Singapore aerostat.

The RSAF told AIN that its aerostat would have certified radiation levels and protection against lightning strikes, with the winch lines and Kevlar tether built to withstand strong winds. It was currently being tested by the manufacturer, before arriving in Singapore. AIN expects that it will be deployed at the southernmost end of the live-firing restricted area on the west side of the island.