Talisman Saber 2013
More than 20 Ships, 100 Aircraft and 27,000 Personnel Participate
Henry Ford once said, "Coming together is the beginning; keeping together is progress; working together is success."
Every two years, Talisman Saber is planned, organized, and carried out by U.S. and Australian militaries for the simple purpose of enhancing combined, joint-force teamwork, so that the two militaries are better at getting the job done - no matter what that job is.
"Talisman Saber is one of the largest combined, joint exercises that the Navy does," said Rear Adm. Jeffrey Harley, commander, Expeditionary Strike Group (ESG) 7. "We work with our Australian partners and allies to hone our war fighting skills and to create interoperability that we can utilize in the future, whether that's war fighting, or humanitarian assistance with disaster relief, or anything across the spectrum of maritime activity."
Amidst static displays, distinguished visitors, media interviews and children enjoying themselves as they checked out U.S. and Australian military hardware, Talisman Saber 2013 officially kicked off July 14 at a local fairgrounds-type venue in Rockhampton, Queensland.
At the same time, off the coast of eastern Australia, in the Coral Sea, a flurry of maritime activity began. USS Germantown (LSD 42) launched a fleet survey team on small watercraft to scout the Australian coastline for water depth, looking for the best landing spot for a possible amphibious assault. Approximately 50 nautical miles away, USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD 6) and the embarked 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit conducted simultaneous helicopter and landing craft air cushion (LCAC) maneuvers, readying themselves the assault. USS Chung-Hoon (DDG 93) waited along with Royal Australian Navy (RAN) ships HMAS Choules (LSD 100), HMAS Sydney (FFG 03) and HMAS Perth (FFH 157) - all of sat ready to join the ESG in the Amphibious Operating Area (AOA).
"The amount of planning that goes into this biennial exercise is extraordinary," said Harley. "We coordinated over 20 ships, more than 100 aircraft, and several submarines - and we tied them together over a wide area using training areas throughout Australia."
One spectacular display of coordination among the forces exhibited itself among the Sailors and Marines who orchestrated their daily operations in the tightly packed community aboard Bonhomme Richard. The service members worked side-by-side to ensure amphibious operations were successful from the point of loading on ship to hitting the beach.
"The Sailors from the ship helped us get our (Combat Rubber Raiding Craft) in the water, their safety boat escorted us in, and they even circled our scout swimmers dropping shark repellant in the water," said a force reconnaissance Marine with the 31st MEU. "They helped our insert from the ship all the way to the shore. If the Sailors aren't at the top of their game, we don't even make it out of the well deck."
On a day-to-day basis, the proverbial blue-green team meshes their strengths and areas of expertise to benefit the mission. The dynamic of having direct counterparts that operate in completely different environments brings a wide array of knowledge to the collaborative effort.
"I have learned that each side, blue or green, provides different skills to the fight," said Information Systems Technician 3rd Class Breanna Shepherd, assigned to Bonhomme Richard. "Everyone is good at something and the Navy may help to fill gaps the Marines have and vice versa. You have to use all your available resources when trying to complete a mission and our Marine counterparts are part of those resources."
With all the players making individual preparations, the next step was to integrate and position them in the AOA. U.S. and RAN vessels moved into place along the Australian coastline during the next phase of Talisman Saber.
"Our job is to provide protection for the amphibious force," said RAN Capt. Ray Leggatt, commander, Australia Amphibious Task Group and Sea Combat Commander for Talisman Saber. "We provide command and control by directing our surface assets to provide protection to the amphibious force against other hostile contacts, such as submarines or other surface threats, so that they can accomplish their mission on land."
Once the Amphibious Warfare Commander, played by Amphibious Squadron (PHIBRON) 11 acting commodore, Capt. Heidi Agle, made the recommendation to Adm. Harley that conditions were set to land the U.S. Marine landing force, Bonhomme Richard, Germantown, and Choules launched an amphibious assault July 20 and 21 consisting of AAV, LCAC and LCU beach landings, during which more than 100 military vehicles full of equipment and personnel were offloaded onto the Australian shore. A day later, the air assault began. Roughly 400 U.S. Marines and 200 Australian troops were air and surface transported to a simulated combat area and prepared to conquer their first landing objective.
"The Marines and Sailors were exposed to new environmental challenges that are unique to training here in Australia," said Marine Col. John Merna, commanding officer, 31st MEU. "The massive scale of this exercise prepared us to operate as maritime contingency force for a wide range of missions in this region."
Coordinating troops from multiple ships to achieve land objectives is challenging, to say the least. The Bonhomme Richard ESG remained near strategic areas along the coast to provide communication, equipment, and personnel support. Bonhomme Richard, with her 59 hospital bed intensive care unit, operating rooms, ample flight deck, and spacious well deck, essentially served as a forward deployed base for sending ashore a reinforced infantry battalion of Marines with associated close air support fixed and rotary wing aircraft during the exercise. Germantown and Choules, ships built largely for the purpose of launching LCAC and LCU, worked in tandem to provide amphibious support to troops and watercraft. And Chung-Hoon, Perth, and Sydney had the responsibility of providing power projection from the sea, gaining and maintaining maritime superiority by defeating the threat of submarines as well as fast attack craft (FAC) or fast inshore attack craft (FIAC).
"One of the greatest advantages of naval forces is that we're an organic, self-contained unit, so wrapping up an exercise of this magnitude isn't that difficult," said Harley. "The hard work comes after, when we begin looking at the lessons derived from the execution of the exercise so that we can continue to be better for the future."
The massive multi-national combined, joint-force exercise wrapped up August 5, when U.S. and Australian forces completed all their air, land, and sea objectives. At that point, forces returned to their ships of origin, their performance studied to improve future operations.
"We've integrated very well across the board, with the ship, the ESG staff, the MEU, and the PHIBRON staff," said Leggatt. "We've developed some great relationships. All the members of the Australian staff have been overwhelmed by how welcome we've felt during this exercise - that's helped all of us do our job."