Two recent drone incursions at Changi Airport on June 18 and June 24 that led to at least seven flights being diverted and more than 50 delayed are an alarming indication of the potentially disruptive power of unauthorised unmanned aircraft operations. Drones coming into any airport's airspace could impede aircraft on their final approaches or take-offs. Even small unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) can cause more damage to planes than birds at the same impact speed, even if their weights are similar. Thus, the unintended intrusion of a drone into the airspace of airports could be disastrous. If intentional, an incursion here would be tantamount to an attack on one of Singapore's key facilities. The sighting of more than one drone - reportedly drones not of recreational make - sharpens the contours of the threat such UAVs could pose. Given that some drones can fly long distances that extend beyond the Republic's sovereign airspace, and that those in the recent incidents could have been operated by someone at sea, drones could conceivably become weapons of coercion against Singapore.
It is this security threat that must also be addressed as the authorities go all out to investigate the incidents. Hostile foreign entities or non-state actors inimical to Singapore's interests must not be allowed to latch on to this low-cost opportunity to probe Singapore's defences. How the authorities react to the two incidents would indicate to such protagonists the range of deterrent capabilities that Singapore possesses. Some have been showcased previously, such as a jammer gun and a drone catcher system that uses a net. It is also possible that the incursions were the work of someone or a group of people who did not heed the ban on flying drones within 5km of airports or military airbases, or at altitudes above 200ft (61m), without a permit. Those who flout the rules can be fined up to $20,000 and jailed for up to a year.