An air base is an intricate and tightly-connected warfighting system. The air base has to generate the right number of aircraft in the right configuration, and to take off at the right time for missions. Given the high operational tempo, there is little margin for error. Today, advancements in data analytics, artificial intelligence and robotics have opened up new possibilities for the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) to be more effective and efficient in its base operations. The RSAF, jointly with the Defence Science and Technology Agency (DSTA), is exploring the development of the Smart Air base concept to be more effective and efficient in generating and sustaining air power for the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF).
The envisaged Smart Air bases will revolutionise the way the RSAF fights by enabling the RSAF to be more agile, resilient and efficient in air power generation. Specifically, the Base Command Post will be better networked to all air base systems, and decision support systems (DSS) enabled by data analytics and artificial intelligence will be used to sense-make voluminous amount of data and provide recommendations for follow-on actions. This allows commanders to make decisions faster and focus on orchestrating dynamic and complex air base operations.
There will also be more automation and unmanned systems in areas such as aircraft inspection and maintenance, air base security, and runway damage assessments and repairs. The four features of the future Smart Air bases include:
a. Automated Aircraft Inspection. Aircraft turnaround time and the workload on the RSAF's aircraft engineers will be reduced with an automated aircraft inspection system. Instead of the current pre-flight and post-flight aircraft inspections, aircraft hangars will be equipped with sensors and Unmanned Ground Vehicles (UGVs) to perform checks to ensure that the aircraft are fit for flight. The automated aircraft inspections will not only reduce the aircraft inspection load for the RSAF's engineers, but will also reduce the aircraft turnaround time for better aircraft generation capacity.
b. Smart Fleet Management. Maintenance tasks will be more proactive in the future with the smart fleet management system that is being developed by the RSAF and DSTA. By applying data analytics to aircraft information, the system will be able to provide insights on aircraft performance and proactively recommend maintenance actions. With this pre-emptive approach, engineers will be able to carry out maintenance activities before system failure or before complex problems surface, which require more time and effort to resolve
c. Enhanced Air base Security. The Smart Air base will be equipped with unmanned technologies for enhanced air base security, operating alongside security troopers. Facial recognition and biometric verification will also be implemented for access control into and within the air bases. In addition, more advanced sensors and video analytics will be used to detect intrusions and suspicious activities. Existing counter-drone capabilities will also be enhanced with better detection and the use of "drone-catcher" drones to take down errant drones.
d. Expeditious Runway Damage Assessments and Repairs. Runway damage assessments and repairs can be conducted more expeditiously. Instead of having personnel on the runway to conduct damage assessment, self-organised drones will be utilised to reduce the manpower and time taken for the assessment. Upon detection of surface anomalies, the DSS will prioritise runway repair operations and recommend taxi routes to minimise disruption to aircraft launch and recovery operations. UGVs will also be deployed concurrently to assist in the repair operations.