Since the start of this year, the Republic of Air Force (RSAF) has been testing the use of drones to check for runway damage – a task that is currently done through visual inspections by ground crew.
It has also been trialling the use of automation for aircraft maintenance, and sensors for pre- and post-flight aircraft checks.
These are part of the RSAF’s efforts to realise its vision of smart air bases, which requires less manpower to operate by tapping on new technologies such as data analytics and artificial intelligence.
Spearheading these concept and prototype tests are personnel from the Air Power Generation Command (APGC). Their efforts were recognised at the Productivity and Innovation in Daily Efforts (PRIDE) Symposium held at Nanyang Polytechnic on 4 Oct.
APGC was one of the 67 award winners recognised for their outstanding and innovative projects. It won the highest award – the Minister for Defence Award (MDA), and also clinched the MDA (Innovation) award.
"For the past year, (the) Air Power Generation Command has succeeded in pushing the smart air base vision, and in enabling ground-up innovation which are important as we prepare ourselves to work with a leaner workforce in the future," said Brigadier-General (BG) Gan Siow Huang, Commander APGC.
Established in 1981, the PRIDE movement encourages organisational excellence, innovation and productivity across the Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) and Singapore Armed Forces (SAF).
In his speech, Minister of Defence Dr Ng Eng Hen highlighted the importance of technology and innovation to the military. In particular, digitisation and datafication, he noted, are new norms that the SAF has to tap on.
"This impact is all pervasive (for militaries)… For the SAF to stay ahead, we must learn to use and exploit data more intelligently for our purposes," he said.
For example, the Army's Maintenance & Engineering Support (MES) Formation has set up a "sandbox" to test new ideas for maintenance work.
One innovation to come out of the initiative was the Telemetry and Analytics System. Using data analytics to track the condition of the Army’s tracked vehicles, the system is able to predict mechanical faults before they happen.
For its innovation efforts, the MES Formation clinched both the MDA and MDA (Innovation) awards.
Small ideas, huge difference
And it is not just the big ideas but also small ideas that can make a huge difference to the daily functioning of the SAF, Dr Ng added.
One example is the use of PayNow to pay out Individual Physical Proficiency Test (IPPT) incentive awards.
Currently, Operationally Ready National Servicemen (NSmen) who do well in their IPPT have to wait around 14 days to receive their incentive awards through GIRO. With PayNow, they will receive the payout immediately upon the completion of their IPPT.
This new system will start at Maju Fitness Conditioning Centre (FCC) early next year, and will be rolled out to Bedok, Khatib and Kranji FCCs by mid-2019.
The award-winning innovations had helped MINDEF and SAF to save $158 million in 2017, exceeding their target by 12 per cent, Dr Ng noted.
One example of a cost-saving innovation is the night sight mount for the MATADOR anti-tank weapon.
Using 3D printing technology, it was developed in just over four months at the Ayer Rajah Camp (ARC) Lab at a cost of only $40. A similar device that is commercially available costs about $300,000.
Set up by the MES Formation, the ARC Lab allows servicemen to quickly turn their ideas into prototypes for testing.
ME7 Tan Mu Yen, Chief Maintenance and Engineering Officer Headquarters, MES Formation, said: "We have created spaces for people to do rapid prototyping, to really reduce the barriers to entry for innovation and to create a safe environment for people to try out (new) things."
"It brings about innovation at a much faster pace as compared to the traditional procurement approach,” the 41-year-old added.
ME7 Tan also highlighted that working on innovation projects not only contributes to the Army’s productivity and readiness, but also provides learning opportunities for its servicemen and women.
ME2 Firdaus Norsham, Second-in-Charge/Master Technical Trainer, Sembawang Forward Maintenance Workshop, can attest to this.
When his unit was tasked to organise a seminar in August this year, ME2 Firdaus was given the challenge of exploring the use of new technology to better run the event.
He chose to develop a block-chain web-based app for registration of participants.Geofencing was built into the app so participants had to be physically present in order to register themselves using their smartphone. They were then able to access the seminar programme and participate in the online panel discussion.
The result? They were able to do away with a registration booth and the printing of brochures.
The 34-year-old attributed his success in developing the app to the innovation culture in MES Formation. For example, data science practitioners in the SAF were gathered to learn and share their knowledge and best practices.
"The safe conditions and environment ensure that our ideas can grow and subsequently materialise into innovations," he added.
Another award-winning project is the new method of calibrating the F-15SG's navigation compass by using the GPS system within the aircraft.
Developed by Air Force engineers from the Air Combat Command, the new method is 50 per cent more efficient and reduces cost by 85 per cent. It was awarded the MINDEF Innovation Project Award.
The navigation compass provides direction, and also serves as a backup navigation system in the unlikely event that the primary navigation system goes offline.
Previously, the aircraft had to be towed to a physical compass pad at the end of the runway for the calibration. The entire process took about five hours, but the new procedure only takes about half that time.
Aircraft manufacturer Boeing has endorsed the new method and the United States Air Force is looking into adopting the new procedure for their own F-15Es.
Military Expert (ME) 4 Sebastian Zheng, 34, started working on the new method during his deployment in the United States in 2016.
The Officer-in-Charge (Electrical & Weapons) at the Peace Carvin V detachment, Air Combat Command, said: "The inspiration came from our daily commutes. In our cars we have in-car GPS system that provides direction to the place we want to go…(So) we applied it to see whether it works (in order) to develop an alternative procedure."
The public can view the innovation projects at the PRIDE Symposium 2018 Exhibition at the Nanyang Polytechnic Atrium on 4 and 5 Oct.