Saturday, February 29, 2020

The secret to best-selling military fiction: Author Larry Bond talks about writing and research

I'm a great believer in thorough research for several reasons, but one non-obvious reason is that it's easier to write about what's real than make it up. - Larry Bond, author.

Those of you who love military fiction would probably have heard of American writers like Tom Clancy and Larry Bond.

Larry launched his writing career in the mid-1980s when he co-wrote the war story, Red Storm Rising, with Tom. The book was an instant hit. Red Storm Rising tells the story of a fictional conflict between NATO and the Warsaw Pact, describing how war might unfold with contemporary weapons then fielded by NATO and the Warsaw Pact. The book also described speculative platforms like stealth fighters. The bestseller has been used as a text at the United States Naval War College and similar institutions. 

We are honoured and humbled to have had the opportunity to learn about writing from Larry (seen above in 2018). Here are excerpts from Senang Diri's Q&A with Larry Bond.

1. How long did it take you and Tom Clancy to plan and write Red Storm Rising, counting from the day the idea
 was first raised till the book was published?
LLB: We weren't keeping exact track, but I would say about 1.5 years.

2. In the pre-internet era, what were three challenges when researching military themes?
LLB: Information had to come from commercially published sources or personal contact. Often the kind of information Tom wanted wasn't about the technical characteristics, but the subjective experiences of service members. We made field trips to Aberdeen Proving Grounds, the Norfolk/ Virginia beach area to interview operators and get hands-on experience.

I can't list "three challenges." Our goals were:
  1. To depict the operation of military equipment and service members in a plausible, easily understood narrative.
  2. To craft an exciting story with a military theme.
The tanks, fighters, and other gear in Red Storm and all the other military thrillers serve the same purpose as horses in a western or swords in a samurai story. They are tools that the heroes need to do their job. They can be unusual or flashy, but should never become the center of attention. The story is about the characters, not the equipment.

3. What impact has the internet had on the speed with which you can uncover information for your writing?
LLB: I have yet to find a single app that lets me type faster, but there are several tools that I would miss if the internet disappeared.
  1. One of the ones I use most is the ability to check the spelling of foreign names or words. Before I had to use the dictionary or an atlas, with much page turning. This allows me to get back on task quickly.
  2. Another is Google Earth and Google Maps, which lets me easily place the action in real-world locations. I can either find a location suitable for the action, or shape the action based on the actual terrain, which makes the writing almost an interactive experience.
  3. The ready availability of photos and diagrams, and better yet, videos. It's great to call up a YouTube video of a tank firing or a missile launch and keep that in mind while I describe it.
4. How has the US DOD responded to the plots and concept of operations for various weapons described in your books? Was there ever a concern you had described events or battle scenarios too close to reality?
LLB: None in my recollection. I have asked questions during visits and interviews that were not answered, based on classification, but nobody's ever raised a fuss. Once service members see that you're trying to get the story straight, they'll work with you to help build the story. And the best stuff isn't classified. 
When I visited a fighter squadron while researching Red Phoenix, they helped me figure out which widget on an F-16 could get shot up so that our hero could fly for a little while, but not make it all the way back to base (engine oil pump). They also shared personal experiences of ejecting from an F-16, which was amazingly useful, and little bits of fighter culture that I'd never find out on my own.
While the internet helps a lot, it can only answer questions you ask. It can't tell you what you didn't know you needed to know.

5. How do you balance writing a credible story with the need to preserve opsec? Does self-censorship even arise when you are writing?
LLB: Security never's been an issue. I've had security clearances, and there are two broad categories of classified information: Technical specifications, and operational plans. The technical stuff is so far down in the weeds that it would bore a reader, and isn't necessary to tell the story. The operational plans - what they actually plan to do - don't matter, because I've got my own plot, and by the way, I know what battles will be won or lost by each side before I start typing. The good guys cannot get their act together before the end of act two.

6. How would you respond to people who suspect that classified information was used for your books, which is why they sound so authentic?
LLB: That they don't understand a) How much information is available in the public arena, and b) that you don't need that kind of information to tell a good story. 
After Hunt For Red October was published, and people I worked with found out that I knew Tom, asked me to confirm that he was with the DIA or ONI or some other alphabet agency. Tom had never been in the military and had never had a security clearance. If you read HFRO carefully, looking for "sensitive details," there aren't any.
And here's a writer's trick. If you're missing a piece of information, write around it.

7. Do you work out your plots in advance before beginning each novel?
LLB: Absolutely. Not only because I want to avoid writing myself in a corner, but because the story usually has many events happening around the world, and the sequence is important. It makes starting a new chapter easier if I know in general what's supposed to happen.

8. Do your characters ever take on a life of their own and influence the direction of your stories?
LLB: Yes. That's one of the fun parts. Obviously characters start out with certain roles, but as I write, and I have them react to each situation, sometimes the most honest reaction is not what I envisioned. It can result in a minor character take on a larger role, such as the Russian grandmother in Cold Choices, but it can also mean a minor character ends up disappearing when I discover that they can't advance the plot.

9. Do you write specifically for your readers or do you write the sort of novel you would like to read?
LLB: Both. If I can't stand my own stuff, I'd be a pretty poor writer. I try to write so that if someone in the military service reads it, they don't cringe, and hopefully enjoy it. And if it works for someone who's "in the business," then I know that the civilian reader is getting an authentic story.

10. Would you describe where you write? With portable digital devices, can you write on the go or is there a favourite desk/room where inspiration flows?
LLB: My office is a second-floor bedroom, making for a wonderfully short commute. I do believe in the "cabin in the woods" meme. If I'm writing away from the house and its distractions, even just sitting in an airline seat, my output increases. But I don't have a "special spot" - or maybe that's what my office is.

11. Do you have a word count per day or do you let the story develop naturally during each writing session? Is there a fixed time of day/night when you write best?
LLB: I start in the morning and write until I'm done. Starting in the afternoon doesn't work for me. I know other writers are much more productive. Unless I'm late, I'll aim for 1,000 words a day. I've peaked at about 2,500, but I think all three Muses were backing me up that day.

12. What's next, writing-wise?
LLB: I've got a lot of projects underway, but most of them have to do with our publishing company, the Admiralty Trilogy Group. Chris Carlson, who I've written the last six books with, and I have ideas for more more stories, but being a publisher takes up a lot of our time.

You may also like:
For the patient reader, military secrets are self-revealing. Click here

Friday, February 28, 2020

For the Patient Reader, Military Secrets Are Self-Revealing

Tom Clancy (1947 - 2013)

4 December 2022 update: 

Pukul Habis: Available from Amazon sites that serve your location. "Look Inside" function on some sites shows sample pages.



Canada: Look Inside

France: Look Inside

Germany: Look Inside

Japan: Look Inside



United Kingdom: Look Inside

USA: Look Inside

Connecting the dots is a game you may have played as a kid.

For the late American author, Tom Clancy, connecting the dots meant fusing openly available information to form a big picture. He used this technique frequently when researching the capabilities of a weapon platform or system, or how it might be used in battle.

Tom spoke about his modus operadi in a 1987 New York Times interview: "Using unclassified information, he said, it is sometimes possible to infer secrets about the 'operational capabilities' of certain weapon systems such as the Stealth bomber. He calls this process 'connecting the dots' because it links bits of information to form a big picture."

Thanks to his patience and eye for detail, Tom set the benchmark for military fiction. His first book, Hunt for Red October, which was published in 1984, stunned naval officers for its realism. He also wrote bestsellers such as Red Storm Rising, Patriot Games, as well as Clear and Present Danger. He died in 2013 at the age of 66.

Tom's research was so thorough that John F. Lehman Jr., who was then Secretary of the Navy, joked in 1985 that the author would be in trouble in he was in the US Navy. Mr Lehman told the NYT that he recalled telling Tom in a good natured way: ''If you were a naval officer, I would have you court-martialed because of all the classified information in your book.''

Up to that time, Mr. Lehman said, ''operational procedures of antisubmarine warfare had been classified.'' But, he added, Mr. Clancy had simply ''pieced it all together by voraciously reading the open literature for 15 years, things like the Proceedings of the United States Naval Institute.''

Today, the internet gives patient readers a wealth of information to data mine. The NYT story below is worth reading as it prompts information managers to think about how Tom Clancy might ferret out information in this day and age.

TOM CLANCY'S BOOKS PUT BITS AND PIECES TOGETHER; For the Patient Reader, Military Secrets Are Self-Revealing
By Robert Pear
New York Times 30 August 1987

FROM the wealth of authentic detail in his best-selling novels about superpower brinkmanship, many people assume that Tom Clancy must have served in the armed forces.

In fact, he has no military experience. But he has been reading naval history since the fifth grade, he is fascinated with technology and he reads many specialized journals and reference books intended for engineers and military officers. And the way he has brought it all together in print is an illustration of the kind of synthesis, using only unclassified materials, that Government officials are increasingly concerned about.

Mr. Clancy, who minutely described sophisticated weaponry in such books as ''The Hunt for Red October'' and ''Red Storm Rising,'' said that no one in the Government had given him ''classified information of any kind.'' But he recalled that when he had lunch at the White House in 1985, John F. Lehman Jr., who was then Secretary of the Navy, asked him who had ''cleared'' the information in his first book, ''Red October,'' about the hunt for a defecting Soviet submarine.

Mr. Lehman, in an interview last week, recalled telling Mr. Clancy in a good-natured way: ''If you were a naval officer, I would have you court-martialed because of all the classified information in your book.'' Up to that time, Mr. Lehman said, ''operational procedures of antisubmarine warfare had been classified.'' But, he added, Mr. Clancy had simply ''pieced it all together by voraciously reading the open literature for 15 years, things like the Proceedings of the United States Naval Institute.''

In the course of research for his books, Mr. Clancy also spent a week at sea on a Navy frigate, went aboard several submarines, interviewed intelligence officers, studied a $10 war game and talked to a Soviet defector.

In an interview from his Maryland home, he acknowledged that there may be some validity to the Reagan Administration's concern. Using unclassified information, he said, it is sometimes possible to infer secrets about the ''operational capabilities'' of certain weapon systems such as the Stealth bomber. He calls this process ''connecting the dots'' because it links bits of information to form a big picture.

Nevertheless, it is, he said, unwise for the Government to try to restrict access to unclassified information in the public domain. ''One of the reasons we are so successful is that we have a free society with open access to information,'' he said. ''If you change that, if you try to close off the channels of information, we'll end up just like the Russians, and their society does not work. The best way to turn America into another Russia is to emulate their methods of handling information.''

Besides, he said, ''the principle of deterrence depends on having the other guy know something about what we do. If everything we do is secret, they won't know enough to be afraid of us. Secrecy is a tool for national security, but like any tool it must be used intelligently.''

Mr. Lehman agreed that ''there should never be any kind of Government restraint on unclassified literature.'' He said that Mr. Clancy's accurate portrayal of undersea warfare had helped people understand the damage done by the Walker family spy ring, which sold Navy secrets to the Soviet Union, and by the Toshiba Corporation subsidiary that sold sensitive technology to the Russians, enabling them to make quieter submarines.

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Singapore's ST Engineering unveils new Counter Unmanned Aerial System weapon system

Take note of this new remote-controlled weapon system as you may well see it at an air base near you. It's a new Counter Unmanned Aerial System (C-UAS) designed and made in Singapore by Singapore Technologies Engineering.

The C-UAS, which has yet to be named, was shown for the first time at this month's Singapore Airshow 2020. It was developed as an in-house project to provide law enforcement agencies and armed forces units with the capability to detect and engage drones out to 1,400m away. Starting from a clean sheet, the design team took about six months to develop a working prototype.

Hard and soft kill options are available using ST Engg's family of 40mm grenades packed with explosives or a new programmable round with a streamer payload (see below) respectively. The latter deploys a web of streamers that are designed to entangle the rotors of drones, thus bringing down the device. The streamers are said to be effective out to a radius of 5m.

Target acquisition and tracking is aided by an unknown radar sensor (above) that was absent during the airshow's media day. The planar radar antenna, which was fitted to the U-CAS RCWS during the trade and public days of the show, tracks aerial targets and calculates the required lead angle for the gunner to aim off. It is said to increase accuracy substantially compared to non radar-guided engagements as gunners tend to have difficulty with depth perception when aiming solely using the optical ball camera.

High and low velocity C-UAS rounds have time fuzes preset electronically to detonate the 40mm projectiles close to the target. For maximum effectiveness, the U-CAS gunner would usually fire a pattern of three to four time-fuzed 40mm grenades with the help of the radar to enmesh the drone within several simultaneously exploding clouds of streamers.The programming kit also works  with hard kill 40mm grenades.

The sharp end of the U-CAS comprises HE or HEDP grenades fired from a pair of six-shot Multiple Grenade Launcher. During operations, the MGLs are stowed under steel covers that pivot forward to provide access for reloading or servicing the MGLs. Alternatively, 5.56mm Ultimax 100 LMGs or 7.62mm GPMGs can be fitted to the U-CAS weapon cradle. The effective range for high velocity 40mm grenades was quoted as 1,400m while low velocity grenades are effective out to 300m.

While the instinct for some (most?) of us is to kill any pesky drones that come our way, ST Engg's U-CAS team argues otherwise. There's merit in soft kill options such as streamers that allow you to recover the damaged drone for forensics. This will allow you to find out what the drone operator was looking at and also trace the identity of the perpetrator. The streamers also disable and force down a drone immediately, unlike some soft kill options using disruptive signals that may lead to the drone escaping home on its default setting when the control signal is lost.

The alternative when such civil considerations aren't needed is to simply blast the drone out of the sky. In such cases, ST Engg offers a selection of 40mm grenades with High Explosive, High Explosive Dual Purpose and grenades fused for the electronic Air Burst Munition System, all of which would easily shred unarmoured drones.

Drone killer: Singapore Technologies Engineering's U-CAS weapon station seen at the Singapore Airshow preview. Note that a strobe light has replaced the thermal camera in the first image above. Radar antenna has yet to be installed above the LRAD.

Friday, February 21, 2020

A fresh look at the Singapore Technologies Engineering BR18 5.56mm assault rifle

See no touch: Singapore Technology Engineering's BR18 5.56mm bullpup assault rifle displayed at the Singapore Airshow 2020. Note the health advisory, which is a result of heightened vigilance after the outbreak of the COVID-19 virus in the city-state. The BR18 traces its roots to the SAR-21 rifle (below). The SAR-21 MMS variant is shown here for comparison.

Singapore's BR18 (Bullpup Rifle 2018) 5.56mm rifle that was first shown at the Singapore Airshow 2018 did not spawn a "BR20" at last week's Singapore Airshow (SA 2020).

The Singapore Technologies Engineering BR18 that was displayed at SA 2020 was similar to the rifle we saw at the air show two years back. One very very minor difference was the lack of the name embossed onto the rifle butt, which was visible on the 2018 version. The rest of the furniture and firing mechanism was the same.

The BR18 is a development of the BMCR (Bullpup Multirole Combat Rifle), which was first seen at the 2014 edition of the Singapore Airshow along with the Singapore Technologies Kinetics (STK) CMCR (Conventional Multirole Combat Rifle). Click here for our 2014 blog post on these Singapore designed firearms. The BMCR was refined into the BR18, ditching the finger snapping cover plate at the butt which concealed the firing mechanism. The CMCR has since disappeared from view and development of this weapon is understood to have been suspended. 

We understand the BR18 has yet to find a launch customer. With foreign armies moving back to assault rifles of conventional layout, as seen in the popularity of the FN SCAR and the H&K 416 series, it remains to be seen how the Singapore Army's SAR-21 successor would evolve. Thus far, the SAR-21 5.56mm assault rifle appears firmly entrenched as the principal firearm for Singaporean soldiers, with variants such as the SAR-21 MMS (Modular Mounting System) augmenting units with the original SAR-21 variants.

And while the SAR-21 family expands, it's worth remembering that the M-16S1 continues to arm a number of Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) units, particularly rear area units like those that guard air and naval bases.

One noteworthy development to the SAR-21 involved the modification of the rifle foregrip as a control console for a palm-sized micro Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV). The modification is intended to allow infantry to launch and direct their own UAVs to scout round street corners or peek over the roof of nearby buildings or terrain features. Here's a video that shows how the foregrip is detached from the SAR-21 MMS.
I Can See Too: This is the micro UAV controlled using the detachable foregrip of the modified SAR-21 MMS.
The BR18 seen at SA 2020 compared to the BR18 first shown at SA 2018 (top). Broadly similar with the BR18 displayed in 2018 that was stamped with a name plate on the rifle butt.

You may also like:
1. A look at the Singapore Technologies Kinetics BR18 rifle (2018 blog post). Click here

2. Singapore's BMCR rifle - the world's shortest bullpup rifle (2014 blog post). Click here

Thursday, February 13, 2020

Three shocks in Singapore's COVID-19 fight

Singapore's ongoing fight against COVID-19 could face three stress points that you and I need to watch out for.

The first stress point will come about if and when SG Govt reports the first victim. During the SARS pandemic in 2003, there was a 24-day interval between reports of the first SARS case (1 Mar 2003) and the first SARS death (25 Mar 2003). Singapore reported its first Novel Coronavirus 2019-NCoV (now named COVID-19) case on 23 Jan 2020. While both viruses are different, any COVID-19 fatality that occurs before the 24-day window may lead people to infer (wrongly) that the new virus is more deadly.

Being transparent is important. When communicating complex medical matters, some of which involve patient confidentiality, public comms must be propagated clearly and simply to help people understand the issue. Thus far, Singapore has done well.

Remember too that SARS did not face the onslaught of social media that we see today. The NOKs and family of people being treated need to be shielded from media scrutiny. In their rush for a human interest story and while working under deadline pressure, journalists may inadvertently end up stressing out the NOKs as well as people in the community where the victim lived or worked.

The second shock will occur if COVID-19 proves harder to beat than originally thought. Thus far, the messaging in Singapore has built the impression that while the new virus is more contagious than SARS, it is less deadly. In layperson's understanding, getting it will be like getting hit by the flu bug. News that COVID-19 deaths in China have surpassed China's SARS death toll 17 years ago are unsettling because the grim tally contradicts the messaging that the new virus is "less harmful". If the quarantine period proves to be longer than the 14-day precautionary window, then the public needs to be assured that the various measures at limiting the spread of the virus in Singapore continue to be effective.

The third shock concerns the Disease Outbreak Response System Condition or DORSCON threshold, which many people in Singapore are watching closely. While it is unlikely to move from the current DORSCON Orange to Red (the highest level of alert), people should be told what are the likely triggers for condition Red. This will help the public better understand the data shared almost daily on the COVID-19 situation. People hear a mass of data every day. Thus far, the outlook has been lousy with the number of cases and people in ICU (eight as of 12 Feb 2020) going higher.

These aren't bland statistics. Behind each number are people who care about the patients. Their loved ones are probably wracked with worry as Singapore charts uncharted territory with this new virus.

Help people make sense of that mass of numbers. If people know how far from the Red threshold the (insert a number) COVID-19 cases discovered is, such awareness will help people build up a stronger sense of assurance as it takes away the needless uncertainly and gnawing anxiety from guessing how many more cases will push Singapore to declare DORSCON Red.

Even if the situation is dire and we're one case away from the trigger, it is better for people to know how that threshold was calculated. There's already a fair bit of freelance game theory out there with people guessing how many more cases will need to be announced before we tip into the red. If current projections show it is unlikely, then help people get a reality check while understanding the risk factors that we need to watch out for.

Once people understand DORSCON thresholds, then imagine the groundswell of positive energy that will emerge when Singapore turns the corner and case loads start to drop.

We all hope for the best. But we should all gird ourselves for the likelihood that things may get worse before they get better.

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN) optimises Independence-class Littoral Mission Vessels for naval helo and UAV operations

Ready, Aye Ready: All eight Republic of Singapore Navy Littoral Mission Vessels gather for a family photo on 31 January 2020 at Tuas Naval Base in Singapore. Spot the differences?

All eight Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN) Independence-class Littoral Mission Vessels (LMVs) graced the commissioning ceremony for the last three hulls - RSS Fortitude, RSS Dauntless and RSS Fearless.

Sharp eyed observers might have noticed subtle differences (visible in the top picture) between the ships. Cognoscenti and warship otakus might have understood that the differences go beyond deck markings for the Independence-class LMVs.

Still lost? The images below might help.  

Upper deck modifications split the LMVs into two distinct types. Four can operate S-70 Seahawks while the rest serve as landing pads for naval Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs). Even with deck markings on LMVs dedicated for UAVs, a Seahawk can land on deck though it will be a much tigher fit.

So looking beyond deck markings, the significance of dedicating half the LMVs for UAVs points to a sea change in the concept of operations (CONOPS) for the RSN. Unlike the Victory-class Missile Corvettes (MCVs) that were retrofitted to fly ScanEagle UAVs, the LMV flight deck allows this class of ship to operate larger, more capable UAVs. This includes those that can take-off and land vertically. The elderly 62m MCVs, which are the RSN's oldest surface combatants, launch their ScanEagles via a pneumatic ramp and recover the asset via a sky hook system but do not have the space for VTOL UAVs.

This begs the question: Why not simply operate UAVs from LMVs with painted helideck markings? You could indeed but the wide-decked LMVs come with operational considerations which we won't talk about.

The distinctions are not in the same order as the characteristics that differentiate broad-beam Leanders from the early Leanders but they underline the RSN's focus on UAVs as core assets for maritime operations. The analysis needs to go beyond the rudimentary conclusion that one has a painted deck while the other was left naked. It's more than that...

In time to come, UAVs are likely to evolve beyond sensor platforms. Operational experience gained from sea time with UAVs such as the Singapore-developed V15 series will lay the foundation for the MCV replacements as well as larger assets like the Joint Multi Mission Ship.

It is heartening to note that the LMV project team has had the foresight and creativity to adapt the hull form for naval helos and VTOL UAVs.

Now that all eight have been commissioned, the hard work lies with writing and refining CONOPS for maritime UAVs, thus laying the foundation for future RSN combatants that can operate manned and unmanned naval aviation on and from the sea.

Friday, February 7, 2020

‘Good friends stick through thick and thin’ - Singapore's defence minister visits Singapore Airshow 2020 flying display teams

This afternoon, Singapore's Minister for Defence, Dr Ng Eng Hen, visited flying display teams that will take part in the Singapore Airshow 2020, which takes place from next Tuesday till Sunday (11 to 16 Feb 2020).

During his walkabout at Changi, Dr Ng interacted with pilots and ground crew from the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF), the United States Marine Corps (USMC), United States Pacific Air Forces (PACAF) and the People's Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) Ba Yi aerobatics team.

Dr Ng had a firsthand look at Ba Yi's Chengdu J-10 fighter jets, and the United States' fifth generation fighter jets such as the Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor and the Lockheed Martin F-35B Joint Strike Fighter, all of which will perform at the Singapore Airshow for the first time. Dr Ng also visited the RSAF's integrated display team of Boeing F-15SG fighters and Boeing AH-64D Apache helicopters.

Dr Ng told the media that the Ba Yi team from China's People's Liberation Army (PLA) underwent "stringent tests" to ensure they met Singapore’s criteria before coming to Singapore to perform.

“We have been very careful, and the PLA had been particularly careful that they observe all requirements that were needed to be healthy and they underwent stringent tests,” said Dr Ng on the sidelines of his visit.

“You’ve got to understand that they, just like the SAF (Singapore Armed Forces), are also concerned about the virus spreading within their own ranks,” he said.

The minister noted that the team’s presence at the airshow, despite its contingency back home, is a testament to “how strong our relationship” is.

“You know this phrase, ‘good friends stick through thick and thin’, and I want to thank both the US as well as the Chinese military for being with us in this airshow,” he said.

Dr Ng thanked all the teams for their support and participation in this Singapore Airshow, and underscored the strong bilateral defence relations Singapore has with both countries. 

He said: "I am very thankful that for this Airshow, apart from the Republic of Singapore Air Force that is performing, that we also have the United States Air Force (USAF) and United States Marine Corps (USMC), as well as the People's Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) here with their wonderful planes performing. It is really a vote of confidence; it is also a measure of how strong our relationship is... 

"The USAF and USMC not only are here now but in fact, what they have brought for this Airshow is more than they have ever done. For the first time in the region, they have both the F-22 as well as the F-35Bs performing... 

"For the PLAAF, the People's Liberation Army Air Force, I had visited China last year and signed the enhanced Agreement on Defence Exchanges and Security Cooperation. At that time, I invited them both, Vice Chairman Xu QiLiang and General Wei Fenghe for the Ba Yi, the famous Ba Yi to perform in the Airshow. And the reason being that, this year is the 30th year of diplomatic ties and we thought that would be a good way to commemorate the 30th anniversary."

You may also like:
PLAAF Ba Yi team makes its Singapore Airshow debut. Click here  

Thursday, February 6, 2020

People's Liberation Army Air Force Ba Yi 八一 Aerobatics Display Team from China makes its Singapore Airshow debut

Flying honour guards: Chengdu J-10 fighters from the Ba Yi (August 1st) aerobatics display team perform a flyover in Delta formation. Watch them fly at the Singapore Airshow 2020. (Source: Ministry of National Defense, People's Republic of China)

China's Ba Yi 八一 aerobatics display team arrived in Singapore yesterday afternoon (5 Feb 2020) amid heightened public awareness of the Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV), which originated from the city of Wuhan in China.

Seven J-10 fighters (six to perform, one spare) supported by two Il-76 transport planes landed at Changi Airport with over a hundred People's Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) personnel who form the Ba Yi team. The PLAAF advance party, which assisted with logistics and liaison work with their hosts from Singapore, came here on Monday. The PLAAF personnel are expected to remain in Singapore for the duration of the Singapore Air Show 2020, which takes place from next Tuesday (11 Feb) till Sunday (16 Feb). This puts the team's earliest date of departure as Monday 17 Feb.

I have noted the many points of view and areas of concern raised on various social media platforms on Ba Yi's presence in Singapore. Here are my personal thoughts on Ba Yi's deployment:

1. It’s worth remembering that China is not hermetically sealed despite the onset of the Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV). Air cargo planes and cargo ships (sea voyage: 4 days from southern Chinese ports) continue to ply between China and Singapore daily, but with air crew and sailors under stricter supervision.

2. Talks to bring Ba Yi to Singapore began a few months ago. This is a banner year for China-Singapore relations, which marks the 30th anniversary of diplomatic ties in 2020. So the Ba Yi display will be highly significant for China and Singapore.

3. I understand comprehensive measures were adopted to ring fence Ba Yi during their training in the lead-up to the air show. The J-10 fighter aircraft used by the team and their support planes did not originate from Wuhan. Checks and measures on the team went beyond what is already in place for air cargo pilots and merchant mariners. See Xinhua story (click here) on Ba Yi's departure from a military air base in northern China (which is not their usual home base near Wuhan).

4. I agree that heightened alertness over 2019-nCoV makes timely communications on the PLAAF aerobatics display team important and necessary to allay public concerns. As a matter of practice,  however, Singapore doesn’t comment on deployments of foreign military forces that come to its shores. With that in mind, one can see that Singapore has been limited in what it can say (beyond broadbrush assurances) and the depth of explanation it can give regarding the PLAAF display team’s movements, health and safety regime, and training schedule. China-Singapore relations, particularly in the defence relations sphere, helped both countries evaluate Ba Yi's deployment carefully and clinically in view of recent developments.

5. You cannot hide foreign military aircraft, especially exotic ones like the J-10 and large planes like the Il-76, from Singaporean plane spotters. Announcements were made as soon as practicable. For instance, air show organiser, Experia, announced Ba Yi’s upcoming participation at SA2020 soon after the team’s safe arrival here. I believe Singapore's Minister for Defence, Dr Ng Eng Hen, is due to visit the team tomorrow, and we may well hear more on the matter. The Defence Minister traditionally does a site walkabout ahead of the show's opening, so this media call is normal.

6. SG Govt has made tough decisions to protect people in Singapore from the Novel Coronavirus, with travel restrictions imposed even with Singapore's trade with China worth more than US$50 billion. That same mindset applies for all aspects of the Singapore Airshow.