Singapore unveils new unmanned military vehicle
Singapore has been pursuing unmanned land systems development for over two decades, initially with the GINTIC Institute of Manufacturing Technology's (now known as the Singapore Institute of Manufacturing Technology, or SIMTech) Project Diana, which explored the feasibility of developing indigenous technologies for autonomous ground vehicles.
This was followed by the DSTA-led Project Ulysses, which used a specially modified M-113 armoured personnel carrier (APC) called the Autonomous UGV (AUGV) as a testbed to trial technologies - including a stereo vision camera suite comprising several charge coupled device (CCD) and IR cameras; GPS; an inertial measurement unit (IMU); a laser scanner; and accelerator, brake, and steering actuators - that would enable a large vehicle to navigate autonomously or remotely in day and night conditions in natural terrain.
Leveraging on this experience, the Land Systems business of Singapore defence prime ST Engineering is exploring concepts and technologies that could result in deployable unmanned ground combat vehicles.
A prototype, based on the company's 29 tonne Next Generation Armoured Fighting Vehicle (NGAFV) was unveiled in a July video documenting Singapore Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen's visit to ST Engineering Land Systems' facility in western Singapore, which featured the unmanned NGAFV manoeuvring with an armed 4×4 unmanned ground vehicle (UGV) and quadrotor unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV). The revelation comes only just weeks after the NGAFV, which features a fully digital architecture and an advanced drive-by-wire transmission system, was commissioned into service with the Singapore Army as the Hunter AFV.
The unmanned NGAFV was also seen manoeuvring with the 4×4 Weaponised Probot UGV, which is based on Israel's Roboteam 4×4 Probot (Professional Robot) chassis - measuring 1.4 m long, 1.21 m wide, and 0.58 m high - and equipped with ST Engineering Land Systems' Adder RMG remote control weapon station (RCWS). The weapon station is also seen armed with the company's RMG7.62 gun system - a low-recoil, electrically driven weapon, chambered for the NATO 7.62 x 51 mm round, with a rate of fire of 800 rds/min. Jane's earlier reported that the self-contained weapon is specifically designed for teleoperation applications and features an integral barrel change device that enables an operator to remotely swap its three interchangeable barrels should a stoppage occur.
Unmanned military vehicles - what's happening across Asia?
Besides Singapore, other Asia Pacific countries exploring the use of optionally manned and autonomous land combat vehicles include China, which is pursuing unmanned tank technologies as part of its service-wide modernisation effort. One example is the People Liberation Ground Force (PLAGF)'s tele-operated Type 59 main battle tank (MBT), which was featured in video footage released by state broadcaster CCTV in March 2018. The vehicle is claimed to be a testbed for indigenous autonomous navigation and supervisory control, machine perception, and deep learning, as well as vehicle control actuation and tele-operation technologies.
Further details of the service's unmanned combat vehicle development efforts were not disclosed but Chinese analysts have earlier noted that the PLAGF's Type 59 and Type 69/79 MBTs - which are being gradually replaced by the modern Type 96 and Type 99 MBTs - could be ideal candidates for unmanned combat and "reconnaissance by fire" platforms as a force multiplier. The PLAGF has also tested other armoured vehicle conversions including the Type 63 APC.
South Korea has also embarked on an ambitious programme to develop large UGVs for reconnaissance and combat operations, with the aim of developing robotic wingman platforms that can support its next-generation principal land warfare vehicles. The Land Systems division of Singapore defence prime ST Engineering has revealed an unmanned ground combat vehicle development based on its 29-tonne tracked Next-Generation Armoured Fighting Vehicle (NGAFV) platform.
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