Navy personnel participate in international mine exercise

This article has photo gallery Published on WO2 Andrew Hetherington (author and photographer)

Location(s): Muscat, Oman

Topic(s): Exercises, Mine Countermeasures

Royal Australian Navy personnel in front of  Royal Navy ship RFA Cardigan Bay prior to embarking her on Exercise International Mine Counter Counter Measure Exercise  2016 (IMCMEX 2016) from the Port of Muscat in Oman. (photo: WO2 Andrew Hetherington)
Royal Australian Navy personnel in front of Royal Navy ship RFA Cardigan Bay prior to embarking her on Exercise International Mine Counter Counter Measure Exercise 2016 (IMCMEX 2016) from the Port of Muscat in Oman.

For the first time, Australia has lead a task force as part of an international mine countermeasure exercise. 

Over 10-23 April, a team of 10 Royal Australian Navy personnel joined the Royal Fleet Auxiliary (RFA) ship Cardigan Bay, in Oman, working alongside personnel from Oman, the United Kingdom and the United States.   
Commander Max Muller, Commander of the Mine Warfare and Clearance Diving Task Group based in Sydney, is commanding Task Force 523 which includes multiple ships and three diving units operating in the Red Sea and the Central Arabian Gulf.
“This major international exercise is run every 18 months and Australia has been a major part of it since its inception in 2012,” Commander Muller said. 

The nerve centre of the task force is the operations room onboard Cardigan Bay, which currently houses a significant amount of Australian deployable command and control equipment, all designed to seek out and counter the threat mines pose to shipping.
“Over 30 training mines have been deployed in the Gulf of Oman and it will be the job of the mine countermeasures units within Task Force 523 to find and deal with them,” Commander Muller said.
“My role as the Commander is essentially to gain situational awareness within my assigned exercise theatre from onboard RFA Cardigan Bay and help facilitate the freedom of navigation for shipping transiting through the Gulf of Oman, which has a very high density of maritime traffic,” he said.
Full freedom of navigation will be achieved when Task Force 523 ships have cleared the exercise area of sea mines and dealt with an opposing force from a fictitious non-state terrorist group called ‘The Movement’, whose key aim is to disrupt commercial trade throughout the region. 
Leading Seaman Brooke Callaghan is a Combat Systems Operator Mine Warfare, and participated in the exercise. 
“My job as a battle watch assistant is to operate the command and control system to give our command team situational awareness,” Leading Seaman Callaghan said.
“I update tactical information as it comes through and monitor all of the voice and other communications channels and send updates back to the exercise control headquarters in Bahrain.”
Leading Seaman Callaghan said working with sailors from other nations was a highlight.
“I’ve worked with United States Navy personnel before during Operation Render Safe in 2013,” she said.
“The United States Navy Chief I worked with in the operations room is a mine warfare specialist also.
“Working together developed our personal skills, revealing how each of us operated in the mine warfare space.”
Maintaining responsibility for establishing and operating communications within the multinational operations room on Cardigan Bay was Petty Officer Benjamin Sherrin, also from Mine Warfare and Clearance Diving Task Group.
“I’m the lead communicator at home and on this exercise I was the lead communicator and comms planner for Task Force 523,” Petty Officer Sherrin said.
“During the exercise I provided Commander Muller a detailed picture of our task force and our communications capabilities and limitations.
“One of my roles was to established communications to exercise headquarters in Bahrain as well as to other ships in the task group and the overall task force.”
This was not his first time on this exercise; he was the deputy communicator in 2014.
“This time I was a one man communications cell for our Combined Task Force and I had to plan and set up most of the communications network myself, whereas the last time I worked with another communicator.”