SINGAPORE AIRSHOW: Ship-to-Shore Drone Program Could Have Defense Applications

By Meredith Roaten

ST Engineering photo

SINGAPORE — A new consortium focused on shore-to-ship parcel delivery is working on technology that could also be used for military logistics, according to one of the companies involved in the effort.

ST Engineering, Sumitomo Corp. and Skyports are running a nine-month pilot program to establish a network of drones that can carry up to 7 kilogram payloads. While the initial pilot is commercially focused, the military applications of the platforms could be explored, said Teong Soo Soon, vice president and head of unmanned air systems at ST Engineering, a Singapore-based manufacturer.

“By changing the payloads and the sensors you are able to use it for ... the air force or army,” he said on the sidelines of the Singapore Airshow.

The company’s DroNet product combines an unmanned beyond-line-of-sight aerial vehicle and a command-and-control system. The drones are fully autonomous.

“UA systems have evolved rapidly in recent years to emerge as safe and robust alternatives to traditionally labor- and time-intensive missions,” Soo Soon said in a press release.

This kind of technology could be particularly useful as the U.S. military looks at great power competition with China in the Indo-Pacific, which could include contested logistics operations.

Militaries need to transport critical items ashore such as ammunition, water and medical supplies, he noted.

To make the technology work for warfighters, the drones may need to be hardened to withstand the harsh conditions in which militaries typically operate.

“The biggest difference is how they handle the equipment,” Soo Soon said. “The way they handle it is pretty rough.”

While land-based military logistics would be the most straightforward, maritime logistics presents a greater challenge, he said.

“Even locally, we are doing trials on the ships. Those are really in nascent stages,” he added. “Among all the applications, maritime will be something that needs a lot more nursing, so it will probably be [coming] a bit later."

During the COVID-19 pandemic, conversations with potential international customers slowed. But now that discussions are resuming, the United States is a “key” market, Soo Soon said.


Topics: Robotics and Autonomous Systems

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