Realising Airbases of the Future

Can an infrastructure be intelligent? When it comes to the RSAF’s smart airbase of the future, the answer is a resounding yes!

A joint collaboration between our technologists and the RSAF, the smart airbase aims to transform traditional airbase operations. It would also enable the RSAF to operate more effectively in a high operational tempo by tapping Fourth Industrial Revolution technologies.

The eye in the sky

While the maintenance of runways – a critical airfield infrastructure – is an important task for any airbase, combing through their sheer length is no simple feat.

Working with the RSAF and ST Engineering Aerospace, we conceptualised and trialled an integrated drone system capable of detecting runway damage autonomously.

Incorporated with a specialised damage assessment payload and image analytics algorithm developed by the team, the drones capture images which are transmitted to a ground processor in real time as they fly over the runways. The algorithm then processes and classifies the damages into several categories: large and medium craters, pothole clusters, and foreign object debris.

Realising Airbases of the Future_01
A drone deployed to assess runway damage.

Realising Airbases of the Future_02
The drones enable the processing and classifying of damages in real time.

“To train the algorithm, we had to collect a large image dataset. The entire team, with members from DSTA, the RSAF and ST Engineering, worked closely together to conceptualise iterations of possible damages and simulated actual damage on selected parts of the runway. To create more unique images quickly, we varied the damages by shifting debris patterns in between flights. Teamwork and close coordination were key to translating our ideas from the drawing board to actual trials efficiently,” said Project Manager (Air Systems) Kristin Lee.

The team also utilised a swarm capability developed in-house to enable dynamic mission planning of multiple drones from a single ground station. This allows the drones to communicate with one another and plan flight paths autonomously in dynamic situations, such as reorganising themselves amid contingencies like battery failure.

With the drones, the RSAF will be able to streamline manpower and save time, while also enhancing personnel safety.

Taking a load off

Similarly, achieving greater efficiency and more effective air defence responses drove our engineers to look at new ways to arm our fighter aircraft quickly. Because when it comes to defending our skies, every second counts.

Our engineers and the RSAF partnered a local company to develop an enhanced munitions loader equipped with omni-directional Mecanum wheels, an intuitive user interface, and fully electric appendages that reduce noise and emission. Incorporating technology enablers such as robotics, the enhanced munitions loader allows for better performance, precision and efficiency in munitions loading.

Realising Airbases of the Future_03
The enhanced munitions loader is equipped with omni-directional wheels.

Permitting precise motion in all directions as well as 360-degree on-the-spot rotation, the new wheels make manoeuvrability in tight spaces possible. This is an improvement from the existing loader which had to be driven back and forth multiple times in order for the munitions to be loaded, due to tight spaces in the hangers.

“We wanted to understand the full extent of operations and constraints faced by the weapon load crew, so our team shadowed the crew on-site for several days and also interviewed them to understand their operational workflows better. Through these, we were able to elicit their pain points, which helped us develop a targeted solution to maximise efficiency,” said Senior Programmer Manager Programme Office (Air Systems) April Lim.

The improved mobility has helped reduce loading time and allowed for one-man operations instead of the traditional three-man crew.

Following the completion of trials, the enhanced munitions loader will undergo preparation for operational deployment.

Also read more here about the use of automated vehicles for the transportation of logistical supplies and personnel in the smart airbase.