New Commander Of Singapore Unit Prepares To Support Carrier's Far East Mission

The task of the unit is to support British and allied forces in the region, as well as provide fuel and port facilities.

One of the smallest military units in the UK Armed Forces has appointed a new commander.

Commander Tim Hutchins takes over the reins at the British Defence Singapore Support Unit from Commander Paul Bastiaens after three years in charge.

Cdr Hutchins is now preparing for a demanding 2021, including supporting Royal Navy aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth during her maiden deployment.

The £3.2bn warship and her carrier group will sail to the Pacific Rim next year. 

"It is an outright pleasure and delight to take command here and an incredibly exciting time for the UK, Five-Power Defence Agreement and UK Strategic Command to prove our worth," Cdr Hutchins said.

Located at the northern tip of Singapore, the unit is made up of just 33 UK service and civilian personnel – plus locally employed civilians.

The task of the unit is to support British and allied forces in the region, in particular providing fuel at Senoko and port facilities at Sembawang.

While Britain withdrew its military forces from east of Suez in 1971, the UK has maintained a small military presence for the past 50 years supporting the Five-Power Defence Agreement (FPDA).

It was signed by Britain, Singapore, Malaysia, Australia and New Zealand, all of whom vowed to work together to safeguard the region with an exercise each October, called Bersama Lima, to test their combined abilities.

HMS Montrose alongside in Singapore (Picture: Royal Navy).

As well as that annual exercise, the unit has found its workload growing in recent years as the Royal Navy has stepped up its presence in the Asia-Pacific region.

This has seen visits by HMS Argyll, Albion, Montrose, Sutherland, and, most recently, survey ship HMS Enterprise.

"The role of commanding officer comes with a hefty responsibility," said Commander Bastiaens who is leaving to become executive officer of Navy engineering school HMS Sultan in Gosport.

"The unit remains the UK’s only visible permanent commitment to the Five-Power Defence Arrangement (FPDA) in the region."

COVID-19 restrictions have produced surprisingly minimal changes to visiting numbers, but have reduced ship’s company shore leave.

Most vessels are from either the FPDA nations or the US, but the unit has also supported ships from countries including Brazil, Fiji, Greece, India, Mexico, the Netherlands, Pakistan and Sweden.

At times, it has been the busiest UK military-operated port in terms of frigate and destroyer movements.

Cover image: Commander Paul Bastiaens (left) hands over command in Singapore to Commander Tim Hutchins (Picture: Royal Navy).