UK military personnel from all three services have taken part in a major joint exercise in Southeast Asia this week, strengthening ties with military partners crucial to upholding stability in the region.

Taking place 7,000 miles from the UK in Malaysia, the three-week exercise saw joint activity including combat air simulations, jungle warfare training, beach landings and coordinated naval gunfire support.

Exercise Bersama Lima, which translates as “Together Five”, highlighted the integration of the five partner nations – the UK, Malaysia, Singapore, Australia and New Zealand – who form the Five Powers Defence Arrangements (FPDA).

The FPDA is a consultative military agreement to help maintain security in the region, and Exercise Bersama Lima helped strengthen strategic defence partnerships in an area of the globe which is crucial to the free movement of trade, boosting the Prime Minister’s priority of growing the UK economy.

The major multinational exercise also saw the RAF’s XI(Fighter) Squadron return to Malaysia as part of a tri-service deployment, 78 years after the Squadron’s first visit to the country in 1945, shortly after the end of the Second World War.

The Defence Command Paper refresh, published this summer, set out the Armed Forces’ contribution to the UK’s ambition to establish the broadest and most integrated presence in the Indo-Pacific of any European nation. This included developing a closer bilateral defence relationship with countries such as Malaysia.

RAF Detachment Commander, Wing Commander Mark Robertson, said:

The UK has an enduring partnership with Malaysia and Singapore, demonstrated by our support to exercises such as Bersama Lima. Maintaining security in this region is of global significance and the UK detachment have integrated seamlessly with our Australasian and Southeast Asian partners to continue the development of our shared objective.

The exercise saw:

  • RAF Typhoons conduct a range of training missions, including air combat training against Russian-designed SU30 MKM Flankers, protection of a naval taskforce, and simulated strikes of aircraft and ships with their complement of short, medium and long-range air-to-air missiles.
  • A Coldstream Guards platoon undertake jungle warfare training with the Malaysian Army, including practical demonstrations of the threat posed by venomous snakes, followed by forming a joint infantry company with Malaysian, Singaporean, Australian and New Zealander units to conduct a series of missions in the dense jungle.
  • Royal Marines and Royal Navy personnel from 148 (Meiktila) Commando Forward Observation Battery undertaking boat insertion training and direct naval gunfire support alongside Australian and Malaysian forces. They conducted a variety of boat transfer training, man overboard drills, beach landings and night-time manoeuvres alongside partner forces, as well as coordinating naval gunfire support from five different ships.

The FPDA was established in 1971 to facilitate consultation between the partner nations in the event or threat of an armed attack. Its role has evolved and now includes an Integrated Air Defence System (IADS) for Malaysia and Singapore.

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