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Modestly instrumental: Singapore-based British unit supports UK's tilt into Asia-Pacific

Date Posted: 01-Mar-2024

An inconspicuous British Armed Forces unit in Singapore has been supporting deployments of UK Royal Navy assets in the Indo-Pacific. Ridzwan Rahmat speaks to Commander Edwin Cooper to understand the role his unit plays in the service's tilt into the region

Commander Edwin Cooper, Commanding Officer, British Defence Singapore Support Unit. (Janes/Ridzwan Rahmat)

When the Sembawang Naval Base in Singapore was inaugurated by the British government in 1938, it was meant to protect the country's interests against the threat posed by then Imperial Japan.

Now more than fifty years after Britain's decision to withdraw its forces from the ‘East of Suez', the former Sembawang Naval Base is largely occupied by a Singapore government-lined commercial shipyard operator. However, nestled unobtrusively within the din of these commercial operations is a small formation known as the British Defence Singapore Support Unit (BDSSU).

Speaking to Janes at the facility, Commander Edwin Cooper, commanding officer of BDSSU, described the unit as a small logistical facility that is situated across two locations – the former Sembawang Naval Base and a nearby oil depot at Senoko, with the latter utilised mainly for refuelling missions.

“It is our main contribution to the Five Power Defence Arrangements (FPDA), which replaced the Anglo-Malaysian Agreement in 1971,” said Cdr Cooper, in reference to the series of multilateral defence pacts signed between Commonwealth countries in the region and the UK.

“Several decades later, BDSSU remains a key element of UK defence presence in Southeast Asia, just as the FPDA continues to be an important multilateral organisation with its five members – Singapore, Malaysia, Australia, New Zealand and the UK – co-operating on defence and security issues,” he added.

At present, BDSSU comprises 29 personnel including those from the Royal Navy (RN) and UK civilians and employees from the Singaporean population. “BDSSU plays a vital role in facilitating port operations and delivering fuel to FPDA and US vessels operating in the region,” said Cdr Cooper.