The United Kingdom’s (UK’s) Defence Singapore Support Unit (DSSU) is one of the smallest military units in the British Armed Forces inventory.
What is the Role of the DSSU?
The role of the unit is to support British and allied forces operating in the region, in particular providing fuel (at Senoko) and port facilities at Sembawang.
Each year the unit supports an annual exercise, known as Bersama Lima, held in October (which supports the Five-Power Defence Agreement (FPDA, see below)).
Beyond the above annual exercise, the unit has found its workload growing in recent years as the RN has stepped up its presence in the Asia-Paciﬁc region, with visits by HMS Argyll, Albion, Montrose, Sutherland and, most recently, survey ship HMS Enterprise.
“The unit remains the UK’s only visible permanent commitment to the Five-Powers Defence Arrangement in the region.” (Navy News, 2021, p.27).
The unit is led by a Royal Navy Commander (OF-4) and is located at the northern tip of Singapore.
It is comprised of just 33 men and women (UK service and civilian personnel, plus locally-employed civilians).
Although Britain withdrew its military forces from east of Suez in 1971 – including the main hub of Singapore, which included the sizeable RN establishment of HMS Terror – the UK has maintained a small military presence for the past half century supporting the FPDA (signed by Britain, Singapore, Malaysia, Australia, and New Zealand).
During the past five years, an average of 120 allied vessels visited the unit each year, with 150 vessels in 2017.
Although most vessels are from FPDA nations, or the US, the unit has also supported ships from Brazil, Chile, Fiji, Greece, India, Japan, Mexico, Netherlands, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Sweden – at times making it the busiest UK-military operated port in terms of frigate and destroyer movements.
The unit faces the challenge of supporting the HMS Queen Elizabeth carrier group which will sail to the Pacific Rim as part of its maiden deployment and there will be UK participation in the 50th anniversary Bersama Lima exercise.
Navy News. (2021) Singapore Team Prepares for a Year to Remember. Navy News. January 2021, pp.27.