Category Archives: Latest Quills

IMDEX Asia: Singaporean Navy dominates the headlines

Shephard Media is currently busy reporting at the 11th edition of IMDEX Asia 2017 at the Changi Exhibition centre in Singapore.

What is already evident from this year’s show is that maritime security remains a growing sector for the Asia-Pacific region and this is being demonstrated by the wide range of exhibitors.


The Republic of Singapore Navy is currently dominating the news stories on their home patch as they scout for a joint multimission ship to replace some of its older Endurance-class LSTs.

The service is celebrating its 50 year anniversary and has a warship display at the show demonstrative of its naval might.

On 15 May, Changi Naval Base had its name formally changed to RSS Singapura – Changi Naval Base. The Ministry of Defence said the name change, echoing the RSN’s first headquarters name, ‘will serve as a reminder to RSN personnel of the RSN’s heritage and vital role in defending Singapore’.


This naval facility, located along a strategically important sea lane connecting the Strait of Malacca and the South China Sea, hosts more than 100 foreign warships each year.

Furthermore, another big headline at IMDEX Asia this week was the announcement that the navy will acquire an additional two Type 218SG diesel-electric submarines from German shipbuilder Thyssenkrupp Marine Systems (TKMS).

This takes the total Type 218SG boats on order to four. The TKMS design was originally selected in November 2013, with an order for two and options for two more. The first pair of boats is already under construction at the company’s shipyard in Kiel, Germany, and will be delivered in 2020-21.

For more news from the show please see

Bell-Uber taxi: How soon is now?

Uber, the taxi app company, is working in collaboration with rotary OEM Bell Helicopter on an ambitious flying taxi programme which it hopes to see test flights for in 2020.

Three years from now Uber are hopeful that utilising Bell’s innovation knowledge and expertise they will have an electric vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) aircraft to operate as a taxi service.

Bell Helicopter remain tighter lipped about the timelines at this stage. In a non-committal fashion, Scott Drennan, director of engineering innovation at Bell Helicopter told Quill or Capture more about the deadlines and the project.

‘We are looking carefully at what we can and can’t do. Uber has put out some pretty aggressive timelines. Bell is looking at this from a safety perspective to ensure the aircraft can perform the missions,’ Drennan said.

At this stage, Bell Helicopter’s innovation team, which recently showcased the concept aircraft the FCX-001, is looking at technologies that will adhere to Uber’s brief for urban transportation.


Primarily, the team’s initial propulsion technology direction is anticipated to be centred around hybrid electric although this could evolve to fully electric.

Cities being looked at for an initial service are Dallas and Dubai. The former is no surprise being the home of Bell Helicopter.

‘We are both open to all urban environments… open to Dallas and Dubai… Dallas is our home turf, we know we have supportive mayors and we know we have lots of aerospace in the area.

‘We have communities that want to be leaders in technology and transportation. So, that’s a great choice for us as well,’ Drennan commented.

With a community that is so open to new aircraft technologies buzzing overhead, this surely provides a blank check for the OEM to experiment as this accessibility of aircraft contends with preempted complaints related to noise disturbances.

‘Uber is honest about the challenges. We agree with their list – autonomy and air traffic control certification, propulsion – these are all going to be unique challenges that of course Bell loves to face and matches our historical legacy of taking on transformative lift,’ he commented.

Drennan explained that in the development of the aircraft, low emissions are being considered and noise is a key parameter in its design.

China apologises for poster gaffe

It is hard for any of us to say sorry, but even more so for a communist regime. However, the Chinese Ministry of National Defense (MND) has done so, purportedly for the first time.

The MND admitted an embarrassing photoshop failure on an official poster celebrating the 68th anniversary of the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN). It was an error that drew ridicule from home and abroad, and it occurred shortly before the fanfare surrounding the launch of China’s very first indigenously built aircraft carrier on 26 April.

The celebratory poster depicted a carrier alongside an eclectic and mistaken mix of American and Russian military platforms. Indeed, lifting off from China’s in-service Liaoning carrier was a Russian MiG-35 fighter (apparently not having had to use its landing gear either), an aircraft type not used by China.

Even more bizarre, ploughing through the calm ocean alongside the Liaoning were two San Antonio-class amphibious assault ships operated by the US Navy.

Overhead on the flashy poster a trio of J-10 fighters streaked across a blue sky emblazoned with the message ‘Happy birthday, People’s Liberation Army Navy!’

While the PLAN does operate some J-10s, one would have expected to see carrier-based J-15s operating so far out to sea.

All in all, the PR poster was a massive fail.

A Hong Kong newspaper quoted one critical Chinese netizen who said on the Weibo social media site, ‘This picture shows everyone at the propaganda department is mentally deficient.’

Such was the fuss that the topic came up at an MND press conference on 27 April. Spokesman Yang Yujun commented, ‘We also noticed this problem as you mentioned. We were not meticulous enough in illustrating the image and we suffered from criticism from the internet users.’

He continued, ‘The carelessness was with the editor but the responsibility is on the shoulders of the leadership.’

Indeed, one wonders just how many high-ranking officials will be sent to ‘re-education through labour’ camps to pay for their carelessness. Oh, wait, China supposedly abolished all these camps in 2013 so they might yet be okay.

A reporter asked why the poster had not been removed from circulation, and Yang replied, ‘Criticism of the friends on the internet is more of care and support to us. So we prefer to leave the picture and comments there so they can always remind us that only when we continuously improve and perfect ourselves can we better serve our fans and the military fans.’

The Global Times reported that this was the first time that China’s MND had ever issued a public apology for a work-related error.

Wow! Talk about cracks appearing in the façade!

The case for the tiltrotor

As the US Army aviation community gathers in Nashville for the annual Mission Solutions Summit – where industry will be provided updates on various army upgrade programmes – our cover story in the latest issue of Defence Helicopter features one platform the service doesn’t fly.

While there are far fewer USAF CV-22B Ospreys in service than those flown by their Marine Corps brethren, the use of the tiltrotor for special operations missions over the past decade has equally changed the way the USAF does business.

We recently gained a valuable insight in what it takes to prepare crews to fly the CV-22, with intrepid reporter Barry Smith spending several days with the training unit, the 71st Special Operations Squadron (SOS), at Kirtland AFB, New Mexico.

The Osprey is tailor-made for the vast distances encountered in many of the regions the US finds itself operating in, thanks to such features as an aerial refuelling capability, allowing the USAF and USMC to ‘collapse speed and distance’, in the words of one marine commander.

However, despite a decade of intense and relatively incident-free operations, the fatal accidents that dogged the V-22’s development continues to cast a long shadow. One obvious manifestation of this has been the public reaction in Okinawa to MV-22 operations there, particularly after an accident on 13 December that temporarily grounded the fleet. Given Japan itself is purchasing the V-22, it will be interesting to watch how that shapes public perception there in the years to come.

The suitability of the tiltrotor in meeting the gamut of demanding military missions will also be placed further under the spotlight by the US Army, as it works through the Future Vertical Lift programme in the years ahead.

And that question takes us back to Kirtland AFB, where the 71st SOS has a training syllabus that is finely honed to the unique challenges of flying the V-22.

The training focuses on the importance of CV-22 pilots and special mission aviators (SMAs) – essentially a combination of the flight engineer and loadmaster career fields with many other duties – working together, particularly given the famous rotor downwash of the Osprey, which requires close crew coordination to land in an unimproved landing zone.

Collective dyslexia

One of the biggest personal challenges transitioning from helicopters to the V-22 is the added control input of changing the angle of the engine nacelles, something the commanding officer of the unit said resulted in ‘collective dyslexia’. While this does require some getting used to, ‘everyone figures it out just fine’.

The danger of entering a ring vortex state, which was a serious problem in early USMC tiltrotor operations, is also now well understood and students are taught how to avoid it. They are also shown how to stay out of the rotor wash of other V-22s with very specific techniques and parameters.

This is not unique to the V-22 and, as the commander correctly pointed out, all aircraft have parts of the flight envelope to avoid.

Operating the V-22 will remain within the reach of very few militaries around the world, given the aircraft’s procurement and sustainment costs. While the speed and range of the platform are clearly unmatched by any other VTOL aircraft, the smaller proprotors limits the V-22’s ability to go into a hot, high-altitude landing zone at a high gross weight. In such conditions, a helicopter such as the CH-47 Chinook may well be the better choice.

Nevertheless, the story of the 71st SOS and the effectiveness of the CV-22 training programme is a provocative one in the context of the US Army’s current examination of tiltrotor versus compound coaxial for its future rotorcraft fleet.

Bell Helicopter is developing its V-280 tiltrotor as part of the army’s Joint Multirole – Technology Demonstrator effort, while Sikorsky-Boeing is advancing the SB>1 Defiant co-axial compound helicopter for the requirement – the latter recently announcing the maiden flight of the Defiant will be delayed to the first half of next year.

Despite facing off against the two industry giants in the sector, Bell will be no doubt hoping that established operations with the V-22 across three of the services will help tilt the race in its favour.

For more on the operations of the 71st SOS, see the May-June issue of Defence Helicopter

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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