A MIGHTY show of military firepower was on display in Central Queensland’s Shoalwater Bay to ‘neutralise enemies’ as part of Exercise Talisman Sabre (TS23).  

The strike-fire attack began with the roaring sounds of attack helicopters and fighter jets above (F-35B Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter, AC-130 gunship, UH-1 Viper, and AH-1 Cobra), before the training field was swallowed by a cloud of dust and gunpowder as heavy ground fire thumped down on a fictional enemy using some of the world’s most lethal weapons during the activity on Saturday at the military training area near Rockhampton. 

It was a chance for Australia and the United States to test out their M-777A2 towed artillery systems and United States High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) which Australia is set to acquire as per the government’s announcement back in January. 

United States Army 17th Field Artillery Brigade High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS) during the Exercise Talisman Sabre 2023 firepower demonstration at Shoalwater Bay Training Area, Queensland. IMAGE: Supplied

Staff Sergeant Jimmy Lerma, who was in charge of one of the US sections, said HIMARS provided critical fire cover in defence of an enemy. 

“It provides a very heavy impact in a very short amount of time,” SSgt Lerma said.

“It’s a lot of firepower in one go and what it does is it enables the guys that we’re supporting to have time and space to think about what they’re doing, so that they don’t have an enemy acting on them as they’re trying to think about what their next move is.”

And for the first time on Australian soil, The Republic of Korea fired its K-9 self-propelled howitzers. 

Japan Ground Self-Defense Force had intended to launch its Chu-SAM surface-to-air missile but missed its short window for air clearance, according to an initial assessment shortly after the activity concluded.

Australia’s Chief of Joint Operations, Lieutenant General Greg Bilton said the Japanese would have been disappointed given earlier rehearsals went off without a hitch.

“We’ve got air clearance because it goes actually to a very high altitude and the radar, as I understand it wasn’t able to acquire the drone adequately that we could safely fly,” LT GEN Bilton said.

The Japan Ground Self-Defense Force later confirmed the surface-to-air missile had since been fired in another scenario at Shoalwater Bay.

United States Marine Corps, 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) firing an M777 howitzer during the Exercise Talisman Sabre 2023 firepower demonstration at Shoalwater Bay Training Area, Queensland. IMAGE: Supplied

While the live fire was heavily featured, LT GEN Bilton said the scenario included many more layers of complexity beyond what the naked eye could see.

“We can apply effects in space essentially with satellites,” LT GEN Bilton said.

“And then the other capabilities are cyber capabilities and I’ll leave that to your imaginations with a pretty broad range of targets for them.

“That multinational team working together, identifying the target, passing the targeting data, and then engaging the targets.

“And so much of the learning is before the weapon system is even fought on this exercise.”

The activity was historic for a number of reasons. The Republic of South Korea and Japan are not typically training partners and it’s an enormous logistical feat to get thousands of military personnel, equipment and ammunition to Australia, particularly for nations like Germany.

Captain Svend Heidbrecht of Germany’s Airborne Infantry Regiment 31 said Talisman Sabre provided an opportunity to test logistics as well as battlefield tactics given the distance of travel.

“This is especially important because we have a training opportunity here that we will never get at home, it is completely new and a different environment which has its own unique challenges,” Capt Heidbrecht said.

“Since possible deployments could take us anywhere in the world we’re pretty glad that we can be here in that environment because something we’re not used to. So I think, for us, as we don’t know where our next mission is going to bring us.

All of this is happening under the watchful eye of China following confirmation one of its spy vessels was edging closer to Australia. 

Section Chief from the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU), Sergeant Lewan Patrick poses in front of a United States Marine Corps M777 howitzer during the Exercise Talisman Sabre 2023 firepower demonstration at Shoalwater Bay Training Area, Queensland. IMAGE: Supplie

“We know it continues to transit towards this part of the coastline and it will stay outside of our contiguous sites 24 nautical miles beyond its norm that’s consistent with international law,” LT GEN Bilton said.

“Their (China) behaviors on previous exercises have been exactly that and I don’t expect to change or constrain what you can do in the exercise.”

LT GEN Bilton said the Australian military had been in contact with the vessel which provided a ‘courteous response’ as would be expected while in international waters. 

The large-scale exercise has more than 30,000 military personnel deployed across Queensland, Western Australia, the Northern Territory and New South Wales. 

Next week, the Deputy Prime Minister will travel to North Queensland with United States Secretary of Defense, Lloyd J. Austin III to visit Australian and US service members in the field.

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