KUALA LUMPUR – Nations part of the Five Power Defence Arrangements (FPDA) – Australia, Malaysia, New Zealand, Singapore and the United Kingdom – began the field training portion of the Bersama Gold 2021 exercise today on Friday.
The FPDA is an arrangement in which all five member nations agree to consult one another on measures taken separately or together in response to any attack or threat of attack to Malaysia or Singapore. Under the FPDA a number of formalised and scheduled exercises have been held since the formation of the agreement in 1971.
The ongoing Bersama Gold 2021 exercise is actually the biennial Bersama Shield exercise, which was renamed to Gold to reflect the 50th anniversary of the FPDA. The exercise marked the first field exercise for the FPDA since 2019, with the COVID-19 pandemic reducing drills to command post exercises held virtually.
The Bersama Gold 2021 exercise will involve sea and air exercises, mostly in the South China Sea international waters between the coasts of Malaysia and Singapore, where participating nations will conduct serials like anti-air and anti-submarine exercises, gunnery firings and maneuvering drills. Air forces from the FPDA member-nations will perform air defense exercises over the airspace of West Malaysia and support the maritime component in anti-submarine exercises. Forces will also conduct a virtual jungle warfare workshop, which involves cross-sharing jungle fighting doctrines and discussions on interoperability between FPDA member-nations’ land forces.
A total of 2600 personnel, 10 ships, one submarine, six maritime helicopters, three maritime patrol aircraft, 25 fighter aircraft, two support aircraft, and one command and control aircraft will participate in the exercise, according to separate releases from the Malaysian and Singapore defense ministries. Command and coordination for the exercise will take place out of the HQ Integrated Area Defence System (HQ IADS) at Royal Malaysian Air Force Butterworth and the Joint Warfare Centre at the Malaysian Armed Forces Joint Force Headquarters (MAF JFHQ) in Kuantan. HQ IADS was established initially as a multinational command headed by a Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) Air Vice Marshal , which is a two star rank, for the air defense of Malaysia and Singapore under the FPDA. In 2000, the position was expanded to a joint role covering air, sea and land.
Australian participation for the exercise consists of the LHD HMAS Canberra (L02) and frigate HMAS Anzac (FFH150), a P-8A Poseidon and F/A-18F Super Hornets, according to an Oct. 6 news release from the Australian Department of Defence. Australia did not detail the number of Super Hornets, but four aircraft have been spotted arriving in Singapore.
The United Kingdom is participating with HMS Diamond (D34), which is part of the U.K. Carrier Strike Group 21 (CSG21) deployed in the region. Diamond sailed with Canberra, Anzac and replenishment ship HMAS Sirius (O266) to Singapore following a three-day exercise between the ships. The Royal Air Force (RAF) had announced in May that it planned to dispatch Typhoon fighter aircraft with a Voyager tanker for the exercise, but that has been cancelled. Sources informed USNI News that the plan was scrapped due to the complexity of COVID-19 prevention requirements in several countries where the RAF air group would need to land for their stopovers en-route to the region.
The New Zealand Defence Force announced on Wednesday that the replenishment ship HMNZS Aotearoa (A11) was en-route to Singapore for the exercise and a Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF) P-3K2 Orion will also participate in Bersama Gold. Frigate HMNZS Te Kaha (F77) will also take part in the exercise, but only after it completes a week of sailing with the U.K. CSG21 in the South China Sea.
MAF JFHQ has announced the participation of frigate KD Lekiu (FFG30) and corvette KD Lekir (F26), along with Royal Malaysian Air Force Su-30MKM and Hawk fighter aircraft for the exercise. Singapore has made no disclosure as to which of its naval and air assets are participating, but Republic of Singapore Air Force F-16s have been regular participants in past FPDA exercises and an RSAF F-50 maritime patrol aircraft is likely to participate as the third maritime patrol aircraft in the exercise. Similarly, an RSAF G550 Airborne Early Warning aircraft is expected to be the command and control aircraft mentioned in the release. No information has been provided on the sole submarine taking part in the exercise. With the exception of New Zealand, the four other FPDA countries operate submarines and a U.K. Astute-class boat is operating in the region as part of the U.K. CSG21 deployment.
Following the conclusion of Bersama Gold 2021, Malaysia will host the 11th FPDA Defence Ministers’ Meeting (FDMM) and the 50th FPDA Anniversary celebration on Oct. 21 at the RMAF Subang airbase near the capital of Kuala Lumpur. The Bersama Goal exercise is slated to wrap up on Oct. 18.