Bersama Shield 2017
By CPL Portia Havill
Bersama Shield is an annual exercise designed as an opportunity for Commonwealth nations of southern Asia and the South Pacific to affirm multinational relations, while conducting military scenarios to enhance interaction and regional security.
This exercise, and its sister exercise Bersama Lima, are part of the Five Power Defence Arrangements (FPDA) between the United Kingdom and the previously British-governed colonies of Malaysia and Singapore, along with Australia and New Zealand. The annual exercises are vital to the stability of the South-East Asia maritime domain, and No. 5 Squadron and the Royal New Zealand Navy were privileged to be part of the action.
To make the best use of our time en route to Malaysia, the No. 5 Squadron deployment to Bersama Shield 2017 (BS17) occurred in two stages. Stage one was patrolling in support of the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA) targeting illegal fishing activity, with stops in Papua New Guinea and the beautiful island nation of Palau along the way. Stage two involved conducting a patrol in support of our allies, and included a stopover in Japan.
The work rate was high and despite the intensity of the task, the resulting job satisfaction was undeniable. One highlight of the day was discovering the crew of one ship conducting some talented “bombing” into the water.
On arrival in Malaysia we were welcomed with open arms by our maintenance team. They are always very appreciative when we return the “old girl” with a minimum of work for them to do. They had not only set up the makeshift base for the exercise, but had been out that morning making a good impression on our hosts at the Anzac Day commemorations.
After some much-needed acclimatisation, the exercise proper began. The NZDF contributed three platforms to BS17: HMNZS Te Kaha and Endeavour, along with our P-3K2, as well as extra personnel to assist at the exercise headquarters. This is also an important role, and the experience gained is invaluable in other exercises and operational theatres around the globe.
As for the air crew, we were refreshed, locked and loaded. After the high-tempo scenarios on the way up, the crew integration was on the brink of being a work of art. At No. 5 SQN, we place a high importance on good team work because of its vital role in working as efficiently as possible while ripping up the skies at 300 knots.
On one particularly memorable flight for the exercise we were tasked to join the friendly ships and help them to defend the “high-value unit”. We arrived for our crew brief and in no time were taxiing to the runway. However, before take-off, a water monitor – a large lizard well known in the area – decided a runway crossing in front of a large propeller-driven aircraft would be a good idea. Once we had observed his right to freedom of navigation and he was safely in a grassy area, we were off.
Once established in the “war-zone” the friendly ship we were helping tasked us with “anti-submarine warfare”. This meant we were to go ahead of the force and listen under water with sonobouys to locate the submarine while it tried to sneak towards the surface fleet. We made life as difficult as possible for the submarine for seven hours, before passing on co-ordinates to fast jets so they could attack its position. The information we gained from the sonobouys helped us and the surface ships to successfully protect the “high-value unit”. Having achieved all our goals, we landed after 11 hours flying, then faced another battle to get back to our accommodation to finish a 17-hour duty day. Flights of that nature always result in the greatest job satisfaction, despite being exhausted at the end of the day.
Overall, the entire detachment was a success. Along with our aim of international co-ordination, we strived for quality crew training and we got it. All elements were achieved, and we arrived back to New Zealand safely with three newly qualified crew members. A great culmination of effort on all fronts, from the maintenance team, the crew, and all the way through to the weeks of preparation required just to get the NZDF there. Many thanks and well done to all.
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