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Bersama Shield showcases regional partnerships

Tom Abke

Australia, Malaysia, New Zealand, Singapore and the United Kingdom sharpened their military interoperability and strengthened their defense ties by participating April 5-28 in Exercise Bersama Shield 2021. The exercise falls within the framework of the Five Power Defence Arrangements (FPDA), which the countries signed 50 years ago.

The exercise, conducted virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic, was a “testament to the commitment of member nations to the FPDA” Singapore Armed Forces Lt. Col. Benjamin Kim said in a news release from Singapore’s Ministry of Defence.

“This exercise provided opportunities for us to work together, and build professional and personal relationships,” added Kim, who served as the combined joint task force chief of staff for the exercise.

Exercise Bersama Shield is organized annually by the FPDA’s Headquarters Integrated Area Defense System, which is staffed by representatives of the three main branches of each member state’s Armed Forces, according to Malaysia’s Ministry of Defence. It has historically been a field training exercise, but the 2021iteration was a tabletop exercise. (Pictured: Singapore Armed Forces Col. Lau Mun Leng, center, chief of staff of the Headquarters Integrated Area Defense System, discusses operational plans for Exercise Bersama Shield 2021 with counterparts from the Five Power Defence Arrangements.)

The primary goal is to prepare for combined joint operations in multiple threat situations to protect Malaysia and Singapore, as well as to improve interoperability and develop professional relationships.

The FPDA “is the grandfather of multilateralism, the oldest regional defense arrangement and celebrates its 50th anniversary this year,” Singapore Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen said in a statement.

Exercise Bersama Shield was the first FPDA event held during the anniversary year, Eng added. It will be followed in October by Exercise Bersama Lima and the 11th FPDA Defence Ministers’ Meeting. Exercise Bersama Lima 2019 was held in Malaysia and involved about 3,000 military personnel, more than a dozen ships and 100 aircraft from the five nations.

Rooted in Cold War topography, the FPDA has evolved to include counterpiracy operations and humanitarian assistance and disaster relief missions, said Euan Graham, a senior fellow at the International Institute for Strategic Studies.

The FDPA has gained relevance in recent years due to China’s presence in the region, Graham added, especially its territorial disputes in the South China Sea with Malaysia and encroachments into Indonesia’s waters. In addition to Bersama Shield and Bersama Lima, Exercise Suman Warrior for ground forces is being discussed for 2022, and Exercise Suman Protector, a command post exercise, is slated for 2023.




Tom Abke is a FORUM contributor reporting from Singapore.

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