By KATE BANVILLE
QUEENSLAND’S central coast exploded into a mock warzone, as the United States and Japanese militaries joined their Australian allies in a “show of might” during combined fire strikes from the land, air and sea.
The ninth iteration of Exercise Talisman Sabre launched into action as the Australian Defence Force continued tracking a second Chinese high tech surveillance vessel as it approaches the Queensland coast through the Solomon Sea past Papua New Guinea.
It comes just days after the Prime Minister confirmed another Chinese spy ship was sitting off the coast of Queensland. It’s not uncommon for the Chinese presence, however it is the first time there has been more than one ship deployed to monitor the joint military training.
“[Talisman Sabre] sends a very strong message to our friends and our foes,” Defence Minister Peter Dutton said.
“The only objective for Australia is to have peace within our region and our partnership with America, and with Japan, with the United Kingdom and with New Zealand, and with others within the Indo-Pacific region should send a strong message to the Communist Party and others that we have a great capacity, we have a great deterrence and we will do whatever it takes to keep peace in our region.”
Talisman involves more than 17,000 army, navy and air force personnel from Australia, the United States, Canada, Japan, Republic of Korea, New Zealand and the United Kingdom. As well as observers from France, India, and Indonesia.
The show of force began on Sunday north of Rockhampton when Australian, Japanese and US warships positioned off Shoalwater Bay launched gunfire aimed at “enemy” targets on Townsend Island, testing their lethal weapons and battle management systems in joint scenarios.
The military’s expensive hardware was on display, and its interoperability between forces was watched by Australian top brass located on land inside the Shoalwater Bay range complex who had front row seats as Australia and the US carried out fixed and rotary wing air strikes by AH-64 Apache attack helicopters, AH-1Z Cobra attack helicopters, UH-1Y Iroquois, F-35 JSF, FA/18E Super Hornets, and EA/18G Growler fighter jets.
But it was the artillery component that drew increased attention as Australia looks for options to build its long range weapon systems capability.
With a range of more than 300km, the United States Marine Corps launched its multimillion rocket system – High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HiMARS) – into the sky destroying fictitious enemies, and assisted in the mock battle by Australia’s M-777 Howitzer.
Commander of ADF’s Deployable Joint Force Headquarters Major General Jake Ellwood, said acquiring long range artillery systems would provide a “significant” bolsturing to the ADF
“I certainly know Australia is looking at long range now what type it is, as in what specific type, that is a decision to be taken but long range fire is very important,” he said.
“The significance of it is it allows very long range strikes with high precision weapons and it can engage in a number of different targets which goes beyond the range of what we consider normal artillery.”
A veteran of many Talisman Sabre exercises, Maj Gen Ellwood said Australia was “concerned but not alarmed by the Chinese presence.
“The way we operate is to make sure that we keep our capabilities, and our people secure, and we do that in peace and in conflict. I have no concerns,” he said.
The peak of the mock war-games action will occur in the Shoalwater Bay Military Training Area in Byfield, north of Rockhampton, as well as further north in Townsville and off the east coast of Australia between July 14-August 1, with smaller components anticipated to extend as far north as Darwin and Weipa, west to Hughenden, down to the Whitsundays and Evans Head in NSW.
This week, elaborate scenarios will include complex amphibious beach landings as the ADF puts its most advanced equipment put to the test, including M1 Abrams Tanks, chinook helicopters, integrated technical systems, HMAS Choules, a 16,000 tonne 176 metres long warship capable of carrying more than 350 troops.