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The Singapore Air Show 2022: Opportunities For The Indian Armed Forces?

Brig Arvind Dhananjayan (Retd) Tue, 01 Mar 2022   |  Reading Time: 9 minutes

 The Singapore Air Show (SAS) 2022 was held at the Changi Exhibition Center, Singapore from 15 to 18 February 2022. The last SAS, held in 2020, saw diminished participation in wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. SAS 2022 was estimated to see 13000 attendees and 39 participating Nations, with representation from over 70% of mainstream global aerospace industry. Actual attendance, however, is reported to have been lower, due to COVID-19 restrictions.

Indonesian Air Force Aerobatics Team (L) & LCA TEJAS (R) at SAS 2022: Source-gokepri.com/outlookindia.com

The SAS debuted in 2008 and is the world’s third-largest airshow, after Farnborough & Paris. It is also Asia’s largest air show along with the Dubai Airshow. The present edition is the largest event hosted by Singapore since commencement of the pandemic. The event is held every two years, wherein Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEM), Government representatives and military delegations participate to showcase/view the latest military equipment. 12 country pavilions showcased ground-breaking technology and capabilities across defence and aerospace domains. Close to 700 firms took part – Airbus, Boeing, Embraer, Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI), BAE Systems, Bell, Dassault Aviation, Elbit Systems, US General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc., L3 Harris, Leonardo, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman Corporation, Raytheon, Rheinmetall, Safran and Thales, were some of the prominent names.

The Static Display featured both military and civil segments with planned participation as under (read more at www.singaporeairshow.com/highlights/static-displays):-

   

                                        

 Static Display at SAS 2022:Source- channelnewsasia.com

The Flying Display included Solo/Team displays from the military and civil aerospace industry. Debutants this year included the IAF with LCA TEJAS, Airbus and Boeing. Details are tabulated below:-

The Aeroforum (which included the Aviation CEO Forum and the Sustainable Aviation Forum), was organised on the side-lines of the airshow and saw participation from CEOs of various aerospace firms focussing on (re)building the aerospace industry through networking/fleet development and creation of sustainable solutions for the industry.

India’s Representation

Some Indian firms like FlexiCAM INDIA Pvt. Ltd (a world class exporter in assembling/engraving machines, among others) , as well as multinational firms based in India including BAE Systems, Boeing, L3Harris, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman Corporation and Rolls-Royce were represented as separate entries at SAS 2022.

LCA TEJAS.  Three LCA and a 44 personnel crew were part of the IAF contingent at SAS 2022. The LCA participated in the static display as well as a ‘solo’ flying display, which saw the TEJAS performing intricate aerobatic manoeuvers. The displays exhibited the superior avionics, technology and manoeuverability of the TEJAS as a frontline ‘4.5 Generation’ combat aircraft. India has taken this opportunity to showcase the aircraft to potential buyers among South/Southeast/ Middleast Asian countries and Egypt. The LCA was also showcased at the Dubai Airshow 2021 (read more about the LCA TEJAS @ https://chanakyaforum.com/lca-tejas-ready-to-touch-the-skies-with-glory/ and https://chanakyaforum.com/the-dubai-air-show-2021-opportunities-for-the-indian-armed-forces/ ).

LCA TEJAS at SAS 2022: Source -Wikipedia/pashodigi.com

Technology Demonstrated at SAS 2022

While operational military aircraft were showcased, many stalls like Aviation Industries Corporation of China (AVIC), featured model displays only. While it would not be feasible to cover all the equipment showcased at SAS 2022, this article will focus on displayed operational military aviation products which are of interest or which the Indian Armed Forces could look at/are in the process of acquiring, in order to enhance operational capabilities. These are enumerated in succeeding paragraphs.

  • F-35- All Domain Capability. An F-35B Lightning II Vertical Take-Off/Landing (VTOL) aircraft from the USAF’s Marine Corps based at Iwakuni, Japan performed an extended hover at SAS 2022. Additionally, two F-35A (conventional take-off & landing variant)  from Alaska flew to take part in the static display at SAS 2022 along with a Boeing KC-46A Multi-Role-Tanker-Transport (MRTT) Aircraft, during which the F-35As refuelled four times, thus demonstrating air-to-air refuelling (AAR) capability. In a previous demonstration, the F-35 had  demonstrated its ability to pass data over various networks from an aircraft airborne in the US mainland to other aircraft. The data was then ‘bounced’ through Hawaii to Australia! This capability of multi-domain/multi-senor-data-fusion and long-distance-data-transmission cannot be over-emphasised in today’s network-centric conflict scenarios, where reactions to fast-developing situations and strikes will have to be executed with a minimum of delay over extended geographical areas (read more about all-domain operations @ https://chanakyaforum.com/jadc2-spearheading-all-domain-operations/).

All-Domain Connectivity Facilitated by the F-35: Source-breakingdefense.com

  •  Turkish Aerospace Industry’s (TAI) TF-X Fighter Jet. TAI showcased a full-scale mock-up of its 5th Generation Turkish Fighter Experimental (TF-X), along with dummy weapons and Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS), with the aim of attracting development partners to manufacture the aircraft for the Turkish and other  Air Forces, especially those contributing to joint development. The fighter is claimed to be able to carry out full-spectrum fighter operations. The UAS would be capable of carrying out Manned-Unmanned Teaming (MUMT) with the fighter (read more about MUMT @ https://chanakyaforum.com/the-unmanned-wingman/).

TF-X Fighter Jet Mock-up: Source-defencereviewasia.com

  • Boeing KC-46 A & Lockheed Martin/ Airbus A-330/ A-400 MRTT Aircraft . The KC-46A features the most advanced multirole capabilities of any refueler in the world. It offers both AAR, cargo/passenger transportation and aeromedical evacuation support. The cargo capabilities are akin to the C-17 Globemaster, which the IAF already operates. The KC-46A has a range of 11,830 Km and can carry 114 passengers & 15 crew, casualties and cargo, with a 29,500 Kg payload. The aircraft also features many survivability measures and secure data-link capability, allowing it to operate through contested environments. The A330, with a range of 1800 km and the A400 with a max range of 6400 km have been earlier covered @ https://chanakyaforum.com/the-dubai-air-show-2021-opportunities-for-the-indian-armed-forces/. India has been offered the KC-46A in response to a Request for Information (RFI) floated in January 2018 and is considering it alongside the A330.

KC-46A/A-330/A-400: Source-Wikipedia/airbus.com

  •  Boeing P-8A Poseidon. The P-8A Poseidon Maritime Patrol Aircraft (MPA) was on show at the static display with a multi-mission sensor pod (MMSP). This includes an array of multi-sensor/multi-spectral/multi-intelligence capabilities, which transform the MPA into a multi-role, multi-spectral platform, capable of operating across the electromagnetic spectrum. The Indian Navy (IN) already operates the P-8I Neptune, a custom-built version of the P-8A. India would therefore do well to examine the P-8A’s new MMSP capabilities.

P-8A Poseidon (L) & P-8I Neptune(R): Source- aggrestrat.com/defencelover.in

  • Boeing Insitu Scan-Eagle and Integrator UAS. Insitu, a subsidiary of Boeing, showcased the Scan-Eagle small, long-endurance, low-altitude reconnaissance UAS and the extended range (ER) version of its Integrator UAS. The Scan-Eagle carries a EO/IR camera on an inertially stabilised mount. The encrypted video/C2 data links have a range of over 100 Km and the UAS has a flight endurance of 18 to 22 hours. The Scan-Eagle has a 3.1 m wingspan, max take-off weight of 26.5 Kg and average cruising speed of 89 Kmph. It does not need an airfield for take-off/landing- it is launched with a pneumatic launcher and recovered with a skyhook retrieval system- the retrieval is facilitated by high accuracy differential GPS units mounted on the UAV and retrieval system. The Integrator-ER uses satellite-enabled communications (SATCOM) to extend flight-range beyond-line-of-sight (BLOS), thus achieving a range of over 900 Km with more than 19 hours on station. The Integrator-ER modular MMSP is capable of providing over-the-horizon persistent, high-resolution imagery, signal intelligence and electronic warfare capabilities. The Integrator-ER has a larger wingspan of 4.8m, max take-off weight of 74.8 Kg, endurance of 24 hours and cruising speed of over 100 Kmph. These UAVs are much lighter than the existing long-endurance UAVs in operation with the Indian Armed Forces.

Scan-Eagle (L) & Integrator-ER(R) UAS: Source-insitu.com

  • Elbit System’s Hermes 450 UAV. Israel’s Hermes 450 UAV is a multi-role medium-altitude long-endurance (MALE) UAS. It can accommodate dual-payload configurations, which include EO/IR sensors, LASER designator, electronics intelligence (ELINT)/communications intelligence (COMINT) /Jammer pods, Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR-for target area mapping), Ground Moving Target Indicator (GMTI-which provides continuous surveillance coverage of land-based moving targets)  and large area scanning system operation (LASSO), among others. The UAV can perform two concurrent missions from the same Ground Control Station (GCS). It has a 10.5m wingspan, max take-off weight of 550 Kg, 180 Kg payload capacity, 17 hours endurance and 130 Kmph cruising speed.  The UAV is capable of mixed-fleet operations with other Hermes UAV variants from the same GCS.

Hermes 450 UAV:Source-elbitsystems.com

  • Skylark 3 UAS. Elbit Systems, Israel unveiled an upgraded hybrid-powered long-endurance UAS, capable of silent operation. The hybrid propulsion includes a nose-mounted combustion engine and a tail-mounted electric rotor, thus providing redundancy. The use of the combustion motor provides enhanced range while use of the electric rotor allows silent operation over the target area. The combustion motor can also be replaced with a second electric rotor, thus allowing all-electric operation, albeit with reduced range. The Hybrid sports a 4.7 m wingspan with 50 Kg max take-off weight. Flexible payload configurations include a LASER designator, high-resolution EO camera or ELINT/COMINT receivers. The runway-less launch/recovery means that these UAS can be operated with minimal infrastructure and well forward.

Skylark 3 Hybrid-Powered UAS:Source-aviationweek.com

  • Northrop Grumman RQ-4 Global Hawk UAS. The RQ-4 is a High-Altitude Long-Endurance (HALE) UAV, capable of autonomous operation. There have been several iterations of the Global Hawk with different features/capabilities, from Block 10 to 40. The RQ-4 Block 30/40 have a 22,780 Km range, 570 Kmph cruise speed, over 32 hours endurance and an operational altitude of 7500m. The latter is equipped the multi-platform radar technology, active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar and SAR/GMTI capability. The Integrated Sensor Suite mounts EO/IR payloads. The IN has expressed interest in acquiring 6 to 8 MQ-4C Triton maritime surveillance UAS (a variant of the Global Hawk) for a cost of over US$180 Million each, with a range of 15,200 Km and an endurance of 30 hours, to complement its fleet of P8I MPA. Changes in the MQ-4C include airframe/wing reinforcements, de-icing systems and lightning protection systems, allowing the UAS to descend through cloud layers for surveillance over maritime targets. Full Operational Clearance (combat-ready configuration) is expected by 2023.

RQ-4 Global Hawk at SAS 2022 (L)/ MQ-4C Triton(not displayed at SAS 2022) (R): Source-dvidshub.net/Wikipedia

  •  Blue Spear Surface to Surface Missile (SSM). The Blue Spear SSM is a ‘5th Generation’, 760 Kg, 5.34 m long subsonic SSM- the result of a joint venture (JV) between Israel’s IAI and Singapore’s ST Engineering. The missile mounts a 150 Kg High Explosive (HE) insensitive munitions warhead, which allows it to achieve high subsonic speeds. The SSM can be sea/land launched and is propelled by a liquid-fuelled, air-breathing, turbojet engine, which propels it to a range of 290 Km. The Navigation System is claimed to be immune to GPS disruptions. The fully automated mission planning/execution system is equipped with an advanced data link and uses waypoints/multiple trajectory combinations to achieve BLOS strike capabilities. The Radio-Frequency seeker has greater discrimination capability than any other current missile in the same class. This proves crucial to achieve high kill-probability and minimise collateral damage against moving/stationary targets in congested environments in all weather conditions. The ASM also features sea-skimming capabilities and a host of deception measures.

Blue-Spear Fifth Generation SSM: Source-madeinasean.com/jewishpress.com

Model of JF-17B Fighter at China’s AVIC Stall:Source-aviationweek.com

Conclusion

Though a plethora of military aviation equipment was showcased, no major defence deals were reported to have been finalised at SAS-2022. Nevertheless, the prevailing global geostrategic situation and the urgent need for Nations to modernise their militaries would definitely see acquisitions or JV deals fructify as a fallout from SAS 2022 in the near future. India’s Defence planners and now-vibrant Defence manufacturing industry must look at opportunities to strengthen our military aviation profile/ manufacturing base in order to contribute towards self-sufficiency in military aviation in the years to come.


Author
Brig Arvind Dhananjayan (Retd) has commanded an operational Brigade and has been Brigadier- in- charge Administration in a premier training facility. He has had exposure abroad on deputation to Botswana, Southern Africa as member of an Indian Army Training Team and has had extensive exposure in mentoring of Defence Forces overseas. He possesses vast instructional experience, imparting instructions in both technical aspects and tactical application of weapon systems.

Disclaimer

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