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Tougher drone rules at NDP vital amid terror risks: Experts

Tougher drone rules at NDP vital amid terror risks: Experts
On Wednesday, NDP organisers and the police said that they are stepping up security efforts in the run-up to the Aug 9 celebrations. More personnel from the police and the Singapore Armed Forces will be patrolling the area around the parade venue, the Marina Bay Floating Platform, to look out for drone operators. Photo: Nuria Ling/TODAY

Tougher drone rules at NDP vital amid terror risks: Experts

SINGAPORE — With many countries, including Singapore, facing a heightened threat of terrorist attacks, security and drone experts felt the tougher stance on drones at this year’s National Day Parade (NDP) is necessary as part of the overall security measures.

The deployment of a radar system near the Singapore Flyer to detect and track unauthorised drones, for instance, is a good complement to existing security measures, given the technological advances in drone technology, the experts said on Thursday (Aug 3).

Dr Foong Shaohui, a Singapore University of Technology and Design assistant professor with an interest in robotics and unmanned systems, said that as consumer unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) become smaller and can fly farther and for a longer period of time, they would “have a very small physical footprint”. Hence, it would be difficult to detect or track such drones with the naked eye unless the vehicles are relatively near. “By then, it may be too late,” he said.

Mr Muhd Faizal Abdul Rahman, a research fellow at the Centre of Excellence for National Security at the S Rajaratnam School of International Studies, added: “The tougher stance on drones is an example of how security agencies are proactively guarding against possible threats emanating from the misuse of new technologies, which are shaping the security landscape.”

He pointed to an incident in 2015, when a drone carrying radioactive material landed at the Japanese prime minister’s office. The militant group Islamic State is also reportedly weaponising drones.

Mr Kelvin Goh, general manager of security agency Soverus, noted that a drone can cause damage if the pilot loses control over it.

Given that the NDP is an event with mass attendance, the potential for damage can be greatly increased, he added.

On Wednesday, NDP organisers and the police said that they are stepping up security efforts in the run-up to the Aug 9 celebrations. More personnel from the police and the Singapore Armed Forces will be patrolling the area around the parade venue, the Marina Bay Floating Platform, to look out for drone operators.

No one is also allowed to carry or fly UAVs, including drones, within the area without a valid permit.

The police have said they are also looking out for the safety of the spectators since there will be an aerial display, while NDP organisers noted that it was important to control the flying of drones in the area as they may affect the safety of the low-flying aircraft involved in the parade.

One of the main highlights of this year’s NDP is a five-minute drone light show, featuring 300 drones up in the air at the same time. It will be the first drone show in the NDP and the largest in South-east Asia.

Dr Foong said: “For an event such as the NDP, where there is bustling activity in the skies ... an unauthorised drone poses many dangers. By virtue of its physical presence, it can directly interfere with other equipment through direct collision or require evasive action by authorised systems in the area.”

Drones also transmit a fair amount of electromagnetic signals, which can interfere with GPS signals during the NDP show. All these “could pose potential dangers and hazards to people performing and enjoying the event”, Dr Foong said.

He added that the Gamekeeper radar near the Singapore Flyer is useful as it would help the authorities detect unauthorised devices in “critical areas”. The advanced radar system is able to detect and track even small consumer drones within a 5km radius.

“Previously, authorities had to rely on public officers and members of the public to visually scan the skies to detect such items in restricted areas,” Dr Foong said.

It would be “quite difficult to evade the system”, given that most consumer drones have a range of up to 2km, he added.

While several drone hobbyists interviewed by TODAY said the move to tighten security is understandable, some noted that drone photography is useful for major events such as the NDP. 

Mr Md Zacky, 37, who uses drones for aerial videography, felt the restrictions on the usage of drones were not in line with the "many advancements in technology".