THE “enemy” were no match for Australian and US combined forces as they stormed a compound and gained control of an urban populated area. 

The occupying force, and it’s sympathetic local population may have only existed on paper but held against a backdrop of rising tensions with China, this year’s Exercise Talisman Sabre had a sense of what could be.

Held at the Townsville Field Training area, the urban clearance included many moving parts on the ground and in the air as V-22 Osprey helicopters dropped soldiers in the tactical zone, M1A1 Abrams tanks provided fire cover for US marines and Australian engineers as they stormed the compound taking control as part of a joint mission. 

IMAGE: Kate Banville

“The urban training facility that we do here, it really captures the environment that we can see ourselves in the future,” said Captain Scott Ferguson, Crew Commander of Townsville’s 2nd Cavalry Regiment.

“We train and prepare for a broad range of contingencies, but I think most of them involve some form of urban area so that’s why doing actions like this.

“This is a realistic scenario where at relatively late notice, a foreign group such as the US Marines or army coming in to join us, we don’t have the luxury of time to integrate those capabilities so we just have to execute the plan for what we have, and I think we’ve done that.”

Much of regional Queensland resembled a warzone over the past three weeks as Australia and the United States came together with the United Kingdom, Canada, New Zealand, Japan and Republic of Korea to battle test at sea, on land, in air, and across the information/cyber and space domains.

U.S. Army paratroopers with the 3rd Battalion, 509th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team (Airborne), jump onto a drop zone as part of a simulated Joint Forcible Entry Operation during Exercise Talisman Sabre 2021 in Charters Towers. IMAGE: Supplied

One mission played out in a western Queensland paddock usually reserved for cattle. Instead, 120 US paratroopers leapt from the side doors of an Australian C-17A Globemaster into the open sky above Lakeview Station near Charters Towers.

They’d flown from their base in Alaska on a direct flight to Darwin, before ending up on Australian soil to earn their Australian wings and launch straight into the exercise.

Despite constraints caused by the global pandemic, this year’s exercise had a sharper edge to its complexity, achieving many firsts for the exercise which has been running since 2005.

  • Australia welcomed the Republic of Korea as a participating nation for the first time. Their Destroyer, ROKS Wang Geon, contributed to a maritime warfare scenario involving around 20 ships and 60 aircraft.
  • Capable of speeds up to Mach 4, or 5,000km per hour, the US MIM-104 Patriot surface to air missile was fired for the first time on Australian soil.
  • Amphibious forces from Australia, United States, Japan and the United Kingdom operated from the same ship (HMAS Canberra) for the first time as an integrated landing force.
  • US Space Command deployed to Australia for Exercise Talisman Sabre for the first time. This team exercised important new capabilities in the space domain.
IMAGE: Kate Banville

All of this was carried out with the eyes of China watching on in its two spy ships loitering off the coast.

Their attendance wasn’t a surprise, and in fact added to the realism of the exercise, allowing Australian and US commanders to gather intelligence on how the Chinese navy operates.

“What the Chinese intelligence vessels are doing off the coast are really irrelevant,” Exercise Director, Air Commodore Stuart Bellingham said at a closing ceremony in Townsville.

“They didn’t impact on the exercise at all we planned for these contingencies. “We’re preparing for war, that’s what we do. This exercise is about combat readiness.

“We are preparing together, because our defence force is all about being prepared for any contingency. Our strength is as a group. The alliance is strong.”

Speaking on behalf of the Defence Minister Peter Dutton at a special ceremony to mark the end of the exercise, Federal MP Phillip Thompson said Talisman Sabre demonstrated “that we are here for the betterment of not just our own nations, but the Indo Pacific.”

IMAGE: Kate Banville
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