Military blimp ready for local testing after delay

The tethered 55m-long helium-filled balloon at Choa Chu Kang Camp yesterday. When operational, the aerostat will be able to offer round-the- clock surveillance.
The tethered 55m-long helium-filled balloon at Choa Chu Kang Camp yesterday. When operational, the aerostat will be able to offer round-the- clock surveillance.ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

A military blimp, which will give Singapore extra eyes in the sky to detect possible aerial and maritime threats, is ready for testing locally.

The radar-equipped aerostat, which takes a crew of eight to operate, was supposed to be airborne early last year to watch over Singapore, but needed to complete stringent safety tests at manufacturer TCOM's facility in the United States. The tethered balloon has now been set up at Choa Chu Kang Camp and will go through a series of tests for a year before it is ready to be put into operation.

The 55m-long helium-filled balloon can spot hostile threats from as far as 200km away, enhancing Singapore's aerial and maritime security.

Existing systems are facing increasing constraints. This is mainly due to the construction of taller buildings, which prevent them from establishing a clear line of sight and make it challenging to monitor threats.

When operational, the aerostat, which can hover as high as 600m, will be able to offer round-the- clock surveillance. It will complement the Singapore Armed Forces' suite of airborne and ground- based sensors to identify potential threats early.

Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen, who visited the aerostat yesterday, said it would give Singapore an added layer of confidence.

"All of us recognise that Singapore is a very small island, and that alone makes us vulnerable to threats, either from the air or sea," he added. "(The aerostat) adds another layer of defence..."

When asked about the delay, Dr Ng, who in October 2014 announced plans for its launch, said: "We wanted to be doubly sure that when deployed, it would be safe."

According to the Defence Ministry, the aerostat will be secured to its ground mooring station with high-strength winch lines and a tether built to withstand strong winds and lightning strikes.

It added that radiation emissions from the radar equipment on the aerostat will be "as safe as that of mobile phones".

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 30, 2016, with the headline 'Military blimp ready for local testing after delay'. Print Edition | Subscribe