HMAS Arunta departed Sydney on January 28th for the Royal Australian Navy’s (RAN) first deployment to Southeast Asia of 2022. On the 31st, French surveillance frigate FS Vendémiaire left Nouméa for a similar deployment to the region. 

The Royal Australian Navy regularly deploys ships to Southeast Asia under the auspices of its regional presence deployments. These deployments “demonstrate Australia’s commitment to the Indo-Pacific”. The French Armed Forces in the Asia-Pacific (ALPACI) also sends ships to Southeast Asia annually from bases in New Caledonia and French Polynesia. 

HMAS Anzac meets up with FS Vendemiaire to conduct various serials together during Anzac’s South East Asia Deployment. (Commonwealth of Australia)

The deployments of HMAS Arunta and FS Vendémiaire are very similar in purpose and scope. Press releases from both navies indicate that they will each participate in various exercises and operations with regional partners. Which will contribute to their nations’ visions for the region. 

Commander Samuel Wollrych said Artuna’s deployment would provide the ship and its company with “a number of opportunities to increase our interoperability” by “working alongside regional partners through various navy-to-navy activities”. 

The French Armed Forces in New Caledonia, meanwhile, said that “The FS [Vendémiaire] will contribute directly to the defence strategy of France in the Asia-Pacific by participating in exercises and missions with partner navies.” 

The near concurrent deployment of similar assets on similar missions highlights that, despite the damage caused by AUKUS to the bilateral relationship. France and Australia have converging strategic interests in the Indo-Pacific that are very real. During similar deployments in 2015 and 2019, Australian and French warships exercised and worked together.