Over the past two weeks, 19 ships and 10 aircraft from the 18 ASEAN Defence Ministers' Meeting (ADMM)-Plus nations worked together on a series of exercises to enhance their cooperation in the event of a transnational maritime security threat.
Held from 30 Apr to 13 May, the fourth Maritime Security Field Training Exercise (MS FTX) was co-organised by Singapore and the Republic of Korea (ROK).
"The exercise is a key milestone of Singapore and ROK's co-chairmanship of the ADMM-Plus Experts' Working Group on Maritime Security," said exercise co-director and Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN) Head of Naval Operations Rear-Admiral (RADM) Edwin Leong.
"It brings our navies together to collaborate across a spectrum of maritime security operations...(and) enhances our collective capability to address maritime security threats in the region and to keep our sea lines of communication open and secure for all."
The sea phase of the MS FTX began in the waters off Busan, ROK. In one exercise scenario, a ship was suspected to be transporting armed personnel and dangerous weapons.
A distress signal was picked up by the Information Fusion Centre (IFC) in Singapore, and the perpetrators were found to be uncooperative.
After receiving information from the IFC, ships from the various navies, including RSN frigate RSS Stalwart, quickly formed a cordon around the distressed ship.
An ROK Navy (ROKN) Underwater Demolition Team (UDT) rappelled down via a Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter to apprehend the gunmen. At the same time, a boarding team from RSS Stalwart was despatched to support the mission and swiftly secured the ship's engine room.
"I was impressed by the (boarding and search exercise). Even though the sea was rough, the Singapore boarding team could still do it very well," said Lieutenant Commander Le Thanh Binh from the Vietnam People's Navy, an observer on board landing ship tank ROKS Cheonjabong.
"Nowadays, there are a lot of challenges and threats at sea…which cannot be addressed by any single nation (alone). So the collective multinational effort becomes more and more important," added the 35-year-old staff officer from the Division of Naval Operations, Navy Headquarters.
Paving the Way for Practical Cooperation
En route from ROK to Singapore, the ADMM-Plus navies carried out maritime security drills such as protection of key installations, helicopter cross-deck landings and replenishment at sea drills. They also practised the Code of Unplanned Encounters at Sea, and conducted information-sharing through the sense-making capabilities of the IFC to track vessels of interest.
On 12 May, the navies arrived at the waters off the eastern part of Singapore.
Acting on information received through the earlier info-sharing exercises, boarding teams from the Singapore, Brunei, India and ROK navies conducted a search on a simulated hijacked ship.
Working together with their international counterparts has been an eye-opening experience for the crew of RSS Stalwart.
Despite the initial challenge of getting other navies on board with using the IFC's information-sharing system, communication supervisor Military Expert (ME) 2 Amy Tan, 31, was heartened to see how they worked together for the common goal of maritime security.
"With the help of IFC and (my) officers, we found ways to integrate everyone into using the system effectively. I've learnt how to work with the different navies, despite some communication barriers."
The closing ceremony of the ADMM-Plus MS FTX will be held at RSS Singapura – Changi Naval Base on 13 May. It will be officiated by Singapore's Chief of Defence Force Lieutenant-General Melvyn Ong, and attended by exercise co-directors RADM Leong and ROKN Director Maritime Operations Center RADM Hwang Sun Woo.