The Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) held a ceremony to mark the attainment of full operating capability (FOC) by the IAI Heron 1 medium-altitude, long-endurance (MALE) UAV. The RSAF ordered five of the Israeli company's Herons in 2010 and took delivery beginning in 2012. Singapore has modified the UAV’s communications and training systems to suit its own purposes.
According to the Major John Samuel, commanding officer of one of the two RSAF squadrons operating the Herons, the relatively long period to FOC was due to three factors: the certification of the aircraft systems; the training of personnel; and most important, the networking of the UAV into the overall Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) fighting system.
In a speech at the ceremony, Singapore’s Defence Minister Dr. Ng Eng Hen recognized the ingenuity of engineers within the RSAF and scientists working for the Defence Science and Technology Agency (DSTA), which customized the Heron ground control station software and made the man-machine interface more intuitive. This reduced the operator workload. DSTA was also responsible for integrating the UAV into the SAF’s existing networks. It enhanced the datalink to allow smooth streaming of quality data in a highly congested network. DSTA also developed the simulator system to allow RSAF operators of the Heron to train realistically in Singapore’s dense and limited airspace.
The RSAF 1st Air Engineering and Logistic Group expedited repairs by developing procedures to repair composite materials in-house, reducing the down time to three days, compared with the nine months required when parts were returned to the manufacturer.
Singapore has employed the Heron 1 on both military and counter-terrorism exercises. Currently the RSAF’s Nos. 119 and 128 Squadrons operate the Heron 1, alongside No. 116 Squadron, which operates the Elbit Hermes 450 UAV.