Minister for Defence Dr Ng Eng Hen (third from left) congratulating Chief of Air Force Major-General Mervyn Tan (second from left) after unveiling a plaque to commemorate the achievement of Full Operational Capability status by the Heron 1 UAV. Photo credit: MINDEF
The Republic of Singapore Air Forces (RSAF)'s Heron 1 Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) achieved full operational capacity status on March 15. The Heron 1 UAV was inducted into the RSAF's 119 Squadron in My 2012. Speaking at the ceremony, Minister for Defence Dr. Ng Eng Hen said, “The FOC of Heron 1 brings the RSAF's unmanned aerial capabilities to the level of advanced militaries globally.”
The UAV is operated by a team of UAV Pilots, Air Imagery Intelligence Experts and Air Force Engineers, who have undergone intensive training to operate and maintain the UAV as well as integrate it to support the SAF's operations.
The Heron 1 is among the most advanced UAV systems in its class. With its state-of-the-art avionics, detection capabilities and communications systems, as well as fully automatic take-off and landing capabilities and longer flight endurance, the Heron 1 UAV provides the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) with better battlefield situational awareness and enhanced mission effectiveness.
Along, with enhanced range, it has a suite of state-of-the-art sensors. Its imaging sensors switch efficiently from wide-area scan to zoom, and guide munitions to targets using its laser designator precisely and quickly. It has the ability to fly for more than 24 hours, which is three times longer than the Searcher UAV it replaces, which has been in operation since 1994. Singapore launched its first remotely piloted vehicle in 1979.
The Heron 1 can be deployed with fighters and attack helicopters, amplifying the SAF's precision strike capabilities. it can also be deployed against terrorist threats, because its persistence enables it to cover a wide area of surveillance.
Dr. Ng said that the platform's advanced capabilities have been validated in high-end exercises at home and overseas, by 119 and 128 Squadrons. It has already been deployed in multi-agency counter-terrorism exercises, as well as peace time units to provide valuable information for decision-makers on the ground. Personnel from 119 and 128 Squadrons have also been deployed to the Imagery Analysis Teams in Kuwait as part of the SAF's contributions to the counter-ISIS coalition.
There were several challenges to be overcome along the way, such as processing large volumes of real-time information, ensuring undisrupted streaming of high quality data even in a congested network and developing the in-house ability to repair complex defects on composite materials within a short time-frame. Dr. Ng lauded the team effort by the Air Imagery Intelligence Experts, the Engineers, Defence Science and Technology Agency (DSTA) scientists and engineers in contributing to the Heron 1's FOC.
Following the FOC status of Heron 1, the RSAF can deploy Full-Time National Servicemen (NSFs) as UAV Pilots.