RAF Planning October Deployment Of Typhoons, MRTT To Southeast Asia

Credit: UK Ministry of Defence 2021

SINGAPORE—The UK Royal Air Force (RAF) is looking to deploy its Eurofighter Typhoons as well as the Airbus A330 Multi Role Tanker Transport (MRTT) Voyager to Southeast Asia in October to participate in a milestone edition of Exercise Bersama Lima.

This will be RAF’s first major deployment to the East in five years, after a “round the world” trip in 2016. The RAF did not reveal the number of aircraft going; eight Typhoons and one Voyager took part in the 2016 detachment.  

Exercise Bersama Lima is part of the Five Powers Defense Arrangement (FPDA) between Australia, Malaysia, New Zealand, Singapore and United Kingdom, which will mark its 50th anniversary this year. Significance is added this year by the British Royal Navy’s Carrier Strike Group (CSG) being led by the HMS Queen Elizabeth aircraft carrier, which will take part in the FPDA exercise for the first time. On board the carrier are 18 Lockheed Martin F-35B Lightning II; eight from the Royal Navy and 10 from the U.S. Marine Corp. 

The combined deployment of the RAF and CSG assets is set to make for the UK’s largest presence in Asia in modern times, after the historic “East of Suez” pullout in 1971. It will also be the F-35’s first encounter with Royal Malaysian Air Force (RMAF) Sukhoi Su-30MKM. However, it is understood that the exercise is largely at the operational level.  

FPDA was established for the defense of peninsular Malaysia and Singapore in 1971. The UK’s presence in the exercise has been largely tokenestic, especially in the early 2000s. 

It was not until post-Brexit and the increase of Chinese activity in the South China Sea that Britain repivoted its focus towards the Indo-Pacific region, as outlined in the UK government’s Integrated Review of Foreign Security, Defense, Development and Foreign Policy published in March.  

Usually deployed to Malaysian base Butterworth, it will be noteworthy to see if COVID-19 makes the RAF detachment turn to Singapore as a safe haven instead. Doing so will likely change the dynamics of how the exercise is traditionally played, but the unprecedented presence of the CSG has already forced planners to rethink how to bring Bersama Lima to the next level.  

Chen Chuanren

Chen Chuanren is the Southeast Asia and China Editor for the Aviation Week Network’s (AWN) Air Transport World (ATW) and the Asia-Pacific Defense Correspondent for AWN, joining the team in 2017.