An aerial view of a littoral mission vessel of the Singaporean Navy. Photo: Handout
An aerial view of a littoral mission vessel of the Singaporean Navy. Photo: Handout

High commissioners and naval, air and land force officials from the Five Power Defense Arrangements (FPDA) member nations – Australia, Malaysia, New Zealand, Singapore and the United Kingdom – arrived in Singapore on Thursday for Exercise Bersama Lima, a major annual joint exercise hosted this year by the Lion City.

The exercise was launched on October 1. Singapore’s Defense Ministry said the multilateral war game would involve, among others, 3,000 personnel, 14 warships, one submarine, 58 aircraft, five ground troop platoons and various support elements from the FPDA member nations.

Participating fighters, transport aircraft, helicopters, and ground-based air defense systems, as well as command and control squadrons from the air forces of the five participating Commonwealth members, also honed communications and coordination skills and procedures in combined air operations. These included air-to-air refueling, close air support and troop lift missions, and maritime air surveillance targeting surface vessels and submarines, among others.

Fighter jets from the Singaporean Air Force and its Malaysian counterpart will conduct so-called land-away flights between each other’s air bases during the exercise. Land forces from the five militaries also conducted mock urban operations in a built-up environment simulating streets and a shopping arcade.

Formed in 1971, the FPDA plays a key role in the regional security architecture, under which the five powers are to consult each other “immediately” in the event of an attack for the purpose of deciding what measures should be taken in response, though there is no specific commitment to intervene militarily.

Singapore also commissioned at the end of September its fourth and fifth indigenous Independence-class littoral-mission vessels, Justice and Indomitable, as well as a purpose-built simulation vessel, Daring, which featured a full mock-up of these ships’ integrated command center.

Singapore’s security and success are inextricably linked to the sea because of its reliance on freedom of maritime access and trade, and protecting its sea lines of communication has been the front and center of the city-state’s defense buildup.

The first littoral mission vessel, Independence, was launched on 3 July 2015. Photo: Handout

These vessels are built and easily configured with an adaptive design to suit a variety of missions ranging from maritime patrol and surveillance to search-and-rescue missions.

The new class enables better seakeeping and endurance with a leaner crew to replace the Fearless-class patrol vessels, the ministry said.

The first three vessels of the class – Independence, Sovereignty and Unity – have been put to test since their commissioning last year, participating in exercises including the inaugural ASEAN Multilateral Naval Exercise held in Thailand.

The remaining three vessels of the eight-ship class are expected to be operational by 2020.

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