By Defence Reporter Andrew Greene
Australian warships, planes and soldiers have begun annual joint military exercises with four strategic allies in the sensitive South China Sea region, but the Defence Force has denied the activity is aimed at sending a message to Beijing.
Around 400 Australian personnel are taking part in the three-week long “Exercise Bersama Lima” alongside counterparts from Malaysia, Singapore, New Zealand and the United Kingdom.
The annual gathering for the Five Powers Defence Arrangement (FPDA) nations is being hosted by Singapore this year, and will soon include war games in the contested South China Sea.
Australia’s contribution includes the naval frigate HMAS Warramunga, 12 F/A-18A Hornets, an AP-3C Orion maritime patrol aircraft, an E-7A Wedgetail airborne early warning, control and surveillance aircraft as well as ground troops from the Army’s Rifle Company Butterworth Infantry Platoon.
Royal Australian Air Force Wing Commander Greg Jervis said the exercise is not designed to respond to recent Chinese expansion in the region.
“Absolutely not, the Australian position in the South China Sea has always been consistent and clear,” Wing Commander Jervis told the ABC in an interview from the Butterworth Air Force base in Malaysia.
“We don’t take sides on competing territorial claims or anything like that.”
The Australian Contingent Commander said the annual activity with FPDA allies is extremely useful.
“The aim of the exercise is to enhance the operability of the armed forces of Australia, Malaysia, Singapore, New Zealand and the UK by extending the knowledge of each other’s tactics and our operational staff positions.
“So in essence we get to practice our planning and coordination in the combined joined operational procedures within the region.”
On Wednesday Australian Defence Force Air Chief Marshal Mark Binskin and his counterparts reaffirmed their commitment to the FPDA at a conference chaired by Singapore.
Royal Australian Navy:
- HMAS Warramunga (frigate)
- HMAS Yarra (mine warfare sessel)
- Rifle Company Butterworth Infantry Platoon (ground troops)
Royal Australian Air Force:
- 12 x F/A-18A Hornet (fighter aircraft)
- 1 x AP-3C Orion (maritime patrol aircraft)
- 1 x E-7A Wedgetail (airborne early warning, control and surveillance aircraft)
- 1 x B350 King Air (light transport)
- 50+ joint individual augmentees and staff officers.
E-7A Wedgetail (airborne early warning, control and surveillance aircraft)
Tags: AP-3C Orion maritime patrol aircraft, Australian Defence Force, Australian Defence Force Air Chief Marshal Mark Binskin, China, E-7A Wedgetail airborne early warning, Exercise Bersama Lima, F/A-18A Hornets, Five Powers Defence Arrangement, FPDA, HMAS Warramunga, Malaysia, military, naval Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, South China Sea, United Kingdom