Interview with Director-General of Defence Technology Institute, Air Chief Marshal Preecha Pradabmook (PhD).
The Defence Technology Institute (DTI) is the primary defence research and development organisation under the supervision of the Ministry of Defence (MoD). It has actively built a strategic foundation in defence technologies and solutions to support armed forces and government agencies in military and civilian operations.
In 2016 (B.E. 2559), the MoD announced an initiative for the development of the defence industry and for self-reliance and international marketing which eventually led to the Defence Technology Act 2019 (B.E. 2562). Furthermore, this Act authorised the DTI to promote and support government, private sector and academia as well as engage in partnerships with domestic and international commercial enterprises. It creates an environment that accelerates capabilities development under five target technologies which are: unmanned systems, simulation, rockets and missiles, vehicles and weapons, information and communication. At this year’s Defense & Security we are showcasing a range of unmanned system, simulation and vehicle technologies.
In respect of vehicle technology, we are proud to display the BTR-3 CS which is the latest development of our 8×8 armoured vehicle family in the Command Staff variant. It is based on an all-terrain combat-proven BTR-3E1 which is currently in service with the Royal Thai Army and the Royal Thai Navy. The vehicle is designed to serve as a mobile command centre integrated with a state-of-the-art digital secure communication suite and battlefield management system. The configuration enhances situation awareness and provides accurate information from sensor to shooter. The BTR-3 CS meets operational requirements and the military standard.
In terms of unmanned systems, we have witnessed rapid growth in the deployment of unmanned vehicles in air, land, and sea domains in military combat and non-combat operations. We realised how essential unmanned systems would be from the beginning and we have been investing continuously in this area to become a national leader in unmanned system development. This year we bring two latest families of product from our unmanned technology portfolio to D&S. One is the unmanned ground vehicle (UGV) and the other is the unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV).
Unmanned Ground/Air Vehicles
For the UGV, our focus remains on man-portable modular robots while engaging in the development of larger unmanned ground systems. The man-portable robot is locally designed and produced in collaboration between DTI, industries and academia for deployment in security operations. We use readily accessible commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) components and industrial standard system architecture to minimise the complexity and system cost. We work closely with the operators throughout the development phase which give us a tremendous understanding of their operational requirements and allows us to better support them with integrated logistics during the life cycle of the system.
In terms of larger UGVs, there have been a number of exercises in many countries over the introduction of UGVs in order to study and develop tactics for them in support and combat operation roles for the future battlefield. DTI’s technology analysts believe robots will become a major organic component in force structure for supporting soldiers in logistic and combat operations. DTI is in discussion with leading UGV developers to co-develop UGVs that meet armed forces requirements and enhance robotic technology in Thailand.
For UAVs, DTI continues to build on our success in small tactical multi-rotor and fixed wing platforms designated D-Eye01, D-Eye02 and D-Eye03. They have been developed based on past operationally proven models. The current range of UAVs cover tactical to operational theatres of operation with ranges between 2.5km to 80km. D-Eye02 has recently been certified by Royal Thai Army after undergoing test and evaluation. The other two platforms are still in the certification process. We have received constant interest for these systems since they can be quickly deployed to extend visual situation awareness in real time during reconnaissance and surveillance operations. The platforms share common system architectures with control station which is designed to be simple to operate. Many functions are automated. The UAVs are very popular among users. They are satisfied with the performance and logistic support that DTI provide. Being a national defence R&D organisation enable us to effectively support our customer in the field or at the depot. The systems are currently in service and we expect more orders to grow our backlog.
In addition to the military equipment, one of DTI’s strong capabilities is in simulation and training. There are number of achievements where DTI has delivered turnkey simulation suites and graphical training solutions for the Royal Thai armed forces. This year in D&S 2019, DTI is proud to exhibit the latest version of its Tank Training Simulation. It is the training solution that enables tank drivers, commanders and weapons officers to accelerate their training in operating a generic main battle tank. The system is based on DTI’s proprietary simulation framework which is the foundation for DTI to develop a range of vehicle instruments and display simulations.
DTI is national defence research and development (R&D) organisation. We work with partners at every level across the industry supply chain – the primes, tiers and SMEs including academia – in alignment with our five target technologies. We engage with partners who understand the missions of DTI, the national objectives of defence industry development, self-reliance and the localised manufacturing concept. There are opportunities for potential partners to participate in Thailand’s defence industry.
National Defence Sector Growth
Developing the national defence sector has been one of the most important on the government’s agenda. In the past the sector was fragmented. Since the establishment of the DTI, there are now laws, regulations, policies and initiatives in place to support and promote defence sector. The government is allocating resources in creating a favourable eco-system for business in defence and providing tax incentives for innovation and infrastructure benefits in the Eastern Economic Corridor (EEC).
Two sectors that will grow rapidly are vehicles and unmanned systems. The military vehicle growth has benefited from Thailand being one of the global hubs for the automotive industry. Our industry capitalises on the experience and skill in precision engineering that has been accumulated over the years through original equipment manufacture (OEM). They operate under strict quality control and adhere to the highest standard. They effectively utilise part of their operation in manufacturing civilian vehicles into the production of military vehicle. There are companies who have successfully established firm footprints in the international market and have already achieved major international export.
The growth in the unmanned sector is the benefit of global expansion in both civilian and military applications coupled by the publicly accessibility of sub-system technologies. We are tracking two directions of development. One is the development in unmanned platforms or hardware and the other is the development in services especially in data analytics. In unmanned ground vehicle (UGV) we expect a moderate growth in line with the expansion of innovative applications. In contrast there is a rapid growth in UAVs for the civilian market in sectors such as agriculture, 3D mapping, construction as well as providing advanced sensors for military market. There are a number of local start-ups, SMEs and large companies in unmanned sector. The government of Thailand has tasked national agencies including DTI to nurture them to transit their concepts into prototypes and eventually commercial products.
The UAV community in Thailand is constantly evolving with the support from aviation the regulatory agency or CAAT in helping the industry moving forward while DTI played a role in establishing the first CAAT certified UAS operator training centre in the country.
The defence industry eco-system has a characteristic of constant advancement in technology and doctrine within a dynamic strategic environment. Over time, the DTI has become more robust and agile in providing the armed forces with traditional as well as turnkey defence technologies and solutions for current requirements and future challenges. DTI harnesses existing technologies and a skilled workforce to meet these challenges while we must continuously improve and innovate in order to avoid a surprise from disruptive technology. The DTI is positioned at the heart of this eco-system which is trusted by the Royal Thai Armed Forces.