Both the RNZAF and RNZN are deeply engaged in Bersama Gold 2021, an exercise under the Five Power Defence Arrangements (FPDA) linking Australia, Malaysia, New Zealand, Singapore and the United Kingdom and now under way in the waters between Malaysia and Singapore.
In one of the biggest deployments in recent times, the RNZAF has sent a P-3K2 Orion and the navy the fleet replenishment ship HMNZ Aotearoa and the frigate HMNZS Te Kaha. The latter will join the exercise after completing a week of sailing with the UK’s Carrier Strike Group 21 in the South China Sea.
Our contacts are coy about whether this might involve Te Kaha in a transit of the Taiwan Straits with the carrier strike group.
The FPDA is an arrangement in which all five countries 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 several exercises have been held since the formation of the agreement in 1971.
The ongoing Bersama Gold 2021 exercise is an enlarged biennial Bersama Shield exercise but 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.
It 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 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.
There will also be a virtual jungle warfare workshop with cross-sharing jungle fighting doctrines and discussions on interoperability between FPDA member-nations’ land forces.
Some 2600 personnel are involved along with 10 ships, one submarine, six maritime helicopters, three maritime patrol aircraft, 25 fighter aircraft, two support aircraft, and one command and control aircraft.
Command and coordination for the exercise will take place out of the Head Quarters Integrated Area Defence System at Royal Malaysian Air Force Butterworth and the Joint Warfare Centre at the Malaysian Armed Forces Joint Force Headquarters in Kuantan. A Singapore AF Grumman G550 airborne early-warning aircraft is expected to be the command and control.
We’ve heard no word from the Beehive yet, but Defence Minister Peeni Henare may attend the 11th FPDA Defence Ministers’ Meeting and the 50th FPDA Anniversary celebration on October 21 at the RMAF Subang airbase near the capital of Kuala Lumpur.