EXTENSIVE planning is now underway to ensure Australia’s largest wargames with foreign forces will go ahead, after it was left in doubt with the threat of COVID-19 still lurking.

Tens of thousands of troops will descend on North Queensland for Talisman Sabre, which is the largest bilateral training activity between Australia and the United States designed to test the combat readiness of our Army, Navy and Air Force troops as well as Marines in a series of complex war scenarios. 

Using a suite of advanced equipment and weapons systems in training exercises like ‘Brolga Crawl’ – which was held in Townsville recently – Defence troops have begun ramping up their military training in preparation of Talisman Sabre 21 (TS21) after being told to ‘down tools’ completely when the threat of COVID-19 first became apparent in Australia early last year. 

The sudden move meant an entire calendar year of warfighting training exercises were cancelled, despite Australian Defence Force personnel still deploying on overseas operations including humanitarian relief in the Southwest Pacific, security and surveillance operations in South East Asia, as well as 600 personnel assigned to ongoing efforts in the war in the Middle East.

Since March 2020, the ADF has also deployed more than 13,000 personnel domestically after it was tasked by the federal government to assist with the whole-of-government response to the COVID-19 through a range of tasks including hotel quarantine assistance, state and territory border controls, contact tracing, frontline COVID-19 swab testing, logistical and planning support.

TS21 officially commences on 14 July 2021, with activities peaking 18-31 July 2021 across Queensland, including in the Charters Towers region and ADF Townsville Field Training Area, coastal locations including Bundaberg, Stanage Bay peninsular, ADF Shoalwater Bay Training Area, Mackay, Bowen, Proserpine, Ingham region, Lucinda, Forest Beach, ADF Cowley Beach Training Area and RAAF Scherger, as well as Evans Head in NSW. 

There will also be high levels of activity in mostly Townsville from late June to mid-August 2021, a Defence spokeswoman said.

TS21 will be the ninth iteration of the exercise which consists of a Field Training Exercise incorporating force preparation (logistic) activities, amphibious landings, land force manoeuvre, urban operations, air operations, maritime operations and Special Forces activities using assets from Australia’s Army, Navy, and Airforce.

Talisman Sabre 2019. IMAGE: Supplied

In 2019, Exercise Talisman Sabre involved more than 34,000 personnel from Australia and the United States.

It was the largest exercise of its kind hosted by Australia with forces from Canada, Japan, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom also embedded alongside Australian Defence Force personnel, and delegations from India and the Republic of Korea able to observe the exercise. Eighteen nations from across the Indo-Pacific region were also involved as part of an international visitors program.

Defence is yet to confirm whether any nations other than the United States will participate in 2021.

“Due to the COVID-19 pandemic there will be a reduced number of international forces that travel to Australia,” the Defence spokeswoman said. 

“Some components of the exercise, involving foreign maritime and air elements will occur exclusively offshore.”

The Defence spokeswoman said organisers were working with relevant state and territory authorities – including Chief Health Officers – to design an exercise that met the required COVID safe requirements.

“All foreign forces entering Australia will be required to comply with mandatory quarantine and movement requirements,” the Defence spokeswoman said.

“The arrival of international partners for TS21 will not affect the number of returning Australians. “All international arrivals into Australia are subject to the same requirements – including pre-departure screening and testing, mandatory quarantine and returning a negative COVID-19 test result before exiting quarantine. 

“Comprehensive COVID-19 risk management plans – agreed to by relevant health authorities – will also be implemented throughout the exercise.”

Talisman Sabre 2019. IMAGE: Supplied
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