Category Archives: Latest Quills

Singapore holds first International Maritime Review

Above: RSS Independence, the RSN’s newly commissioned LMV, was one of the reviewing ships.

The Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN), which this year is celebrating its golden jubilee, held its first ever international maritime review in waters off the newly rechristened RSS Singapura – Changi Naval Base on 15 May.

Talking about the event, the RSN stated, ‘The International Maritime Review is an opportunity for the RSN to welcome our friends from around the world to join us in our 50th anniversary celebrations.

‘Working with like-minded navies from the region and beyond to tackle common transboundary maritime security threats, the RSN has strengthened mutual trust and understanding to interoperate effectively with other navies and maritime agencies. The RSN, together with our international partners, continues to ensure a safe and secure maritime environment for all.’

Huangshan is a Type 054A frigate of the People’s Liberation  Army Navy.

Singapore’s President Tony Tan Keng Yam reviewed the participating vessels from land and from aboard RSS Independence, the RSN’s recently commissioned and first-of-class Littoral Mission Vessel.

The fleet review featured 16 ships from the RSN, two vessels from the Police Coast Guard and four aircraft from the Republic of Singapore Air Force, as well as 28 vessels from 20 foreign navies.

Some vessels, such as the large Thai aircraft carrier and Japanese ‘helicopter destroyer’ remained berthed at the naval base, while the majority of the ships were moored at sea.

HTMS Chakri Naruebet, Thailand’s solitary aircraft carrier (sans aircraft except for a couple of helicopters), was the largest vessel in the International Maritime Review.

This was one of the swiftest fleet reviews that this author has participated in, which was probably fortunate given that a tropical thunderstorm enveloped the area right at the end. Media boarded a couple of Fast Craft Utility (FCU) for the event, and were whisked up and down the lines of moored warships in a well-orchestrated event.

During the IMDEX exhibition that was held from 16-18 May, attendees had the opportunity to go aboard and more closely examine a number of these ships whilst they were berthed within RSS Singapura – Changi Naval Base.

The full list of those ships participating in the review is given below.

Singapore participants

RSS Persistence and RSS Endurance (Endurance class), RSS Kaliang, RSS Punggoi and RSS Bedok (Bedok class), RSS Fearless and RSS Daring (Fearless class), RSS Formidable, RSS Supreme and RSS Stalwart (Formidable class), RSS Valiant and RSS Vigilance (Victory class), RSS Independence and Sovereignty (Independence class), RSS Swordsman (Archer class), RSS Conqueror (Challenger class), and Sandbar Shark and Whitetip Shark of the Police Coast Guard.

The RSN’s futuristic-looking Specialised Marine Craft (SMC) performed security tasks during the fleet review.

International participants

Australia – HMAS Ballarat

Bangladesh – BNS Shadhinota

Brunei – KDB Darussalam

Canada – HMCS Ottawa

China – Huangshan

France – FS Prairial

India – INS Sahyadri and INS Kamorta

Indonesia – KRI Sultan Hasanuddin and KRI Halasan

Japan – JS Izumo and JS Sazanami

Malaysia – KD Lekir

Myanmar – UMS Sin Phyu Shin

New Zealand – HMNZS Te Kaha and HMNZS Endeavour

Pakistan – PNS Zulfiquar

Philippines – BRP Gregorio del Pilar

Russia – RFS Varyag

South Korea – ROKS Dae Jo Yeong

Sri Lanka – SLNS Sagara and SLNS Nandimithra

Thailand – HTMS Chakri Naruebet, HTMS Naresuan and HTMS Sukhothai

US – USS Sterett and USS Coronado

Vietnam – VPNS Dinh Tien Hoang


UK defence spending: Labour or Conservative?

As the UK endures another General Election today, for the defence sector the question revolves around which main party would be better for the military and industry?

Looking at the party manifestos and recent statements on defence and security, there are some interesting similarities and comparisons.

Firstly, both Labour and Conservative have committed to keeping the nuclear deterrent, spending 2% of GDP on defence and keeping the military covenant. But comparing the defence sections of the manifestos there are some wider differences.

Conservative: Firstly, it is difficult to see what the party wants as it is bereft of details. However, they state they will ‘maintain the overall size of the armed forces’, which sounds good but this is misleading.

‘Overall’ includes reserve forces, so therefore this will allow for further cuts to full time service men and women even when they are understaffed already.

Secondly, the manifesto states a commitment to 2% of GDP on defence – a target they have already missed due to some sly accounting practices.

The commitment to increase defence spending by 0.5% above inflation per year and the £178 billion for equipment over ten years sounds attractive but meeting the budget depends on the ability to make savings of £5.8 billion, according the National Audit Office.

Thirdly, there is an intention to employ service men and women on a ‘flexible basis’, which also sounds good, but this means job cuts in full time equivalents in order to make more savings.

Fourthly, the manifesto states that ‘for the first time in a generation the Royal Navy is growing’, which anyone with an ounce of cognisance knows is an out-and-out lie. Under the 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review, the number of frigates and destroyers has fallen to just 19 and the number of service personnel has fallen leaving a shortfall of somewhere between 2,000 and 4,000.

It does not even mention the Strategic Defence and Security Review held in 2015, which could mean an abandonment of commitments already made where they have tried to reverse the damage of the 2010 review.

Statements made by Theresa May on defence usually focus on reiterating support for the nuclear deterrent or Brexit, deflecting from the impact of cuts on conventional forces.

Labour: Labour’s manifesto has the defence section at the back as usual, but it actually says a bit more about what it aims to do in defence.

Aside from the commitments to Trident and 2% of GDP, Labour said it would ‘guarantee that our armed forces have the necessary capabilities to fulfil the full range of obligations and ensure our conventional forces are versatile and able to deploy in a range of roles’.

It raises concerns that army has shrunk to ‘its smallest size since the Napoleonic wars’ as well as arguing that the scrapping of Nimrod, HMS Ark Royal and the Harrier ‘have weakened UK defence’.

In addition, Jeremy Corbyn has recently in his Question Time debate said that he would ‘invest properly’ in the armed forces, making a commitment for more ships for the Royal Navy and aircraft for the RAF.

The manifesto goes on to highlight support for the ‘world-leading’ defence industry promising to ‘continue to support development and innovation’ with more procurement from British industry to provide jobs.

Labour said it will also publish a Defence Industrial Strategy and a National Shipbuilding Plan to ‘secure a long-term future for the industry workers and UK defence’.

In addition, the manifesto states service personnel will ‘get the pay and living conditions that their service merits’ and ‘immediately re-examine recruitment and retention policies in order to stem the exodus seen under the Conservatives’ as well as improve service accommodation.

Therefore, overall Labour has provided more detail about what it wants to achieve, given commitments to spending and investment in people and equipment as well as support for industry.

This directly contrasts with the Conservatives record since 2010 which has been abysmal, cutting expenditure when it needed to be held firm or even increased.

But despite the positive outlook from Labour, Corbyn’s personal anti-nuclear stance still gives the party a negative perception on defence.

There seems to be a long-held assumption in the defence sector from service men and women, and industry that somehow the Conservatives are better for defence. But this is misleading.

A quick look at defence spending from a high during the Korean War shows that the Conservatives have always cut the most during the Cold War and after it. Figures from the IFS show that at worst Labour made minor cuts of 1.5% during the late-1960s from 5.8% to 4.3%, maintaining it at existing levels the rest of the time.

Whilst in office the Conservatives raised it from 4.3% to 5% after the Falklands War but then halved it to 2.4% after the end of the Cold War, which was too much. Since 2010 they have pushed it to well below the official figure of 2% putting UK defence and security at risk.

Looking at the manifesto commitments and the historical record it seems that it is time for defence to put their trust in Labour.

Aerial evolution

Counter-insurgency has been the defining format of military operations, particularly for Western countries, for the past couple of decades. As regular forces adapt to a more conventional approach to conflict, so too do unmanned vehicles have to take into account the prospect of denied-airspace operations.

As expressed recently by a NATO official in London, platforms and operators are so accustomed to working in compliant airspace that operating in contested environments could well prove difficult. As it stands, the UAV is a sitting duck for ground and airborne defence systems, given that it is slower, less manoeuvrable and infinitely less robust.

Militaries and industry aren’t complacent about the problem, however, and are busy trying to find the best ways to get their platforms into areas that might be viewed as less than welcoming.

However, there exists a way of thinking, doing and building that emerged as a consequence of a time in which we once lived and that is rather less suited to the time in which we now find ourselves. As fast as technology moves, mankind and its way of dealing with state and non-state combat moves faster, and is looking to leave present unmanned CONOPS in its dust.

Reaper extends range in Afghanistan


Tackling challenge

We have seen unmanned systems shot down by both sophisticated and relatively simple methods in battle zones from Yemen, to Syria and Ukraine. There is no evasive manoeuvring, no reaction to the threat, just a target plodding along in unfriendly skies.

But then again, do we need to bother about ensuring drones are safe from physical attack? If you have hundreds, if not thousands, of systems saturating a denied area at a single time there will be a point when air defence systems won’t be able to cope. Making the rate of attrition high enough to effectively physically and financially overwhelm a targeted enemy remains one of the best possible use cases for unmanned systems. A machine going down in a plume of smoke is still just a machine.

Of course, at present, the more capable systems are of a cost that more or less prohibits these tactics, although some tactical platforms now come in at a price that may allow such action when technological miniaturisation and sophistication improves. Swarm programmes are also being investigated and researched by militaries and government keen to explore this capability.

But it is not just the physical threat that the drone has to worry about. Being bounced out of the sky by modern day versions of Me109s and flak cannon are only the most visible of threats for unmanned systems, with cyber security generally considered as critical to safe and secure operations. Examples of drone hacks usually only refer to suggestions or rumour but one – the optical hack of Israeli drones by Western allies in 2016 – lay bare the scope of the threat and the potential ease with which it can be accomplished.

2016 AFRL Commanders Challenge

Human function

Hardening systems that generally require a great deal of data throughput between the platform and ground station is ongoing throughout industry and operator alike, but until the UAV is able to ‘think’ for itself and decide on actions without having to refer back to control, it remains a significant issue.

Even today, there are very few manned aircraft that have the capability to penetrate denied airspace and successfully carry out the assigned mission, and all this with the benefit of having one of the most sophisticated systems ever made – the human being – controlling the platform and making on-the-spot decisions in real time.

Creating an artificial system that is able to imitate enough of the machine learning and decision-making functions of a human operator is one of the great challenges for industry.


For more on counter-UAS trends, see the latest issue of Unmanned Vehicles magazine.

UDT 2017: Changing Tides

Change is ahead in the underwater environment as this year’s Underwater Defence Technology (UDT) event in Bremen, Germany, highlighted.

With many nations looking to the next generation of submarines, mine countermeasure vessels and anti-submarine warfare we are likely to see many new platforms being inaugurated to the underwater domain in the next decade.

During the days of the conference it was noted by RAdm Thorsten Kahler, chief of staff of the German Navy, that for many years the underwater threat did not receive the number one priority in the service.

The Germany Navy, along with its partners Italy and Norway, is now looking at future submarines as well as other technology. You can read about the developments here.

UDT Europe 2017: Next-gen submarines on the horizon

Meanwhile, there was a key focus on unmanned systems and how best to integrate them into the underwater territory. Leading the way is the use of such systems for mine countermeasures but various other applications are now being explored.

Cpt Herman de Groot of the Royal Netherlands Navy noted that ‘AUVs will change the underwater battlespace forever’ and UAVs will also soon become a part of the underwater environment.

Saab, Atlas Elektronik and L-3 Clazoni were among exhibitors showcasing their unmanned technologies.

While industry has been showcasing and proving its unmanned capabilities for some time now it is up to military to fully embrace the technologies and put it to the best use against adversaries who are undoubtedly looking into similar unmanned platforms.

The use of unmanned technology will of course throw up various legal dilemmas for the maritime industry.



While vessels and submarines were a key focus at UDT there was a significant nod to the underwater special forces community with various companies displaying specialised diver equipment.

One of the talking points though came from two companies showing off various diver delivery systems. Rotinor with its Black Shadow 730 and JFD with its Torpedo Seal, two very different designs for a similar application.


Next year UDT is set to be held in Glasgow, Scotland, so expect a big presence from the UK Royal Navy and we hope to see you there.

The eye-watering cost of modern military aircraft

Designing, developing and delivering a new state-of-the art aircraft is no mean feat. But the cost of some of the latest and greatest aerospace technology is enough to make your eyes water.

Luckily the US has a pretty huge defence budget and by all accounts President Trump is looking to increase defence spending, according to his budget published earlier this month.

So let’s look at some of the most costly US aircraft on the market at the moment. Here at Quill we have whittled it down to three, but if you have any others feel free to leave a comment below.

First off we have the MV-22 Osprey with a flyaway cost of $71.92 million per unit. Now this seems like a lot until you get to the next two we’ve lined up. Really this might just be a relatively expensive bit of kit to put things into perspective…

Second, another helicopter, the CH-53K King Stallion. Is estimated that per unit cost will be around $130 million per aircraft, including the R&D. Another hefty sum, especially considering the aircraft has been in development since 2003 and is a maturation of technology from the CH-53A, CH-53D/G, and CH-53E predecessors.

Potential foreign military sales, Germany is known to be interested, could bring the cost of the aircraft down somewhat.

The CH-53K recently entered low rate initial production.

Lastly, this comment would not be complete without mention of the controversial F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.

Latest findings by the US Government Accountability Office (GAO) breaks down the aircraft cost as follows.

R&D: $1.7 billion; Procurement: $209.7 billion; Total funding: $214 billion; all for a total procurement quantity of 2,158 aircraft.

The GAO puts the programme unit cost at $136.814 million. Now if you’ve been watching the news even President Trump thinks this is very costly, stating that costs are ‘out of control’.

However, it should be noted that Lockheed Martin is looking at ways to cut the cost and as more lots of the aircraft enter production this is likely. As well as foreign military sales helping drive down costs. The Navy’s aircraft is set to be reduced in cost by up to $100 million by 2020 according to reports.

Ultimately, the F-35 could become less expensive than the CH-53K helicopter. Now fancy that.


Richmond missing missiles?

Hard-working and part of a 13-strong Royal Navy frigate force HMS Richmond should ideally be one of the more capable and versatile platforms in the fleet.

And it usually is. Perhaps however, until now.

Social media images on Monday showed the frigate leaving Portsmouth on a tasking, something far from out of the ordinary for the hard-pressed Type 23s, only this time it appears that the quad-packed Harpoon missile launchers are missing.

With the Harpoon recently stated as due to be retired in 2018 the capability was coming to the end of its useful life anyway, but eyebrows might be raised at seeing the only ASuW missile fitted to the vessels removed ahead of its out-of-service date.

When contacted the UK’s Ministry of Defence said that ‘it would be inappropriate to comment on the details and specific weapons systems carried by each of our ships’.

Furthermore, the MoD said that all Royal Navy ships ‘carry a range of offensive and defensive weapons systems and sail with the appropriate capabilities for their tasking’.

Potentially this means HMS Richmond, commissioned into service 22 years ago, is left with more traditional projectile weapons for surface warfare. It is not known if the removal of the Harpoon from the vessel is temporary.

Responding to questions in the UK’s House of Lords in November last year Earl Howe, minister of state at the MoD, said that the current batch of Harpoon missiles had ‘reached the end of its natural life’.

‘To replace it would require significant investment in a new missile stockpile. It was the Royal Navy’s judgment that that would be a less than optimal use of its budget for future investment.

He continued: ‘Its judgment was that investing in the carriers, the Type 26 Global Combat Ship, the new submarines and the offshore patrol vessels, as well a range of missiles and capabilities, rather than reinvesting in a 1980s weapons system, represented the right order of priority for the Royal Navy’s overall capability. That firmly remains its judgment.’


Not something that HMS Richmond can do at the moment (Photo: US Navy)

Can conscription give European nations the edge over Russia?

Many states in Europe are carefully considering how best to enhance their military readiness in the face of a changing security environment in the region.

We have of course seen a splurge in defence spending and new equipment requirements as well as a move away from Russian platforms and now another topic is trending. Conscription.

The Armed Forces is planning for 4 000 recruits annually in basic military training in 2018 and 2019One state that has gone beyond the purchase of equipment and is looking at the manpower side of things is Sweden which earlier this month announced that it will be reintroducing military conscription.

This will mean as of 2018 around 4,000 young men and women could be called up into various roles. Sweden highlighted that in 2016 its forces lacked 1,000 active squad leaders, soldiers and sailors as well as 7,000 reservists. Conscription could help solve this problem it seems.

However, this is not the way forward for everyone. As Grant Turnbull found after speaking to State Secretary of the Latvian MoD Jānis Garisons, who said that it was unlikely the Baltic nation would consider conscription as it would prioritise the available budget to infrastructure rather than new weapon procurement.

Latvia says no to conscriptionWhile Latvia has said no to conscription for now the concept is reemerging in Europe after most states chose to abandon what were seen as out-dated policies of military national service.

Recently the front runner of the French presidential race, Emmanuel Marcon, said he wanted to restore military service to France considering recent attacks by Islamic extremists abroad, Russian aggression, US unpredictability and terror attacks on home soil.

Furthermore, Norway has long had a policy of national military service and has extended the policy to include all women.

In 2015 Lithuania reinstated the draft, reportedly for a five year period that will enhance and accelerate army recruitment having only suspended the policy in 2008.

Many nations in Europe phased out the draft after the end of the Cold War but we could see more considering it as jitters over Russian action in Crimea have not subsided.

Whatever your thoughts on national military service it is something that could be reintroduced to a country near you.

Let us know your thoughts on the topic in the comments below. Is it a worthwhile policy or outdated? Should nations be able to rely on volunteers alone?

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