Horiz-ing to the challenge

This article has photo gallery Published on LCDR Andrew Thorpe (author), LSIS Bradley Darvill (photographer)

Topic(s): Exercises

HMAS Perth fires her 5 inch gun, in company with warships USS Preble and HMNZS Te Kaha as they conduct an anti-aircraft firing serial against a towed target off the Northern Territory coast during Exercise Talisman Sabre 2015.  (photo: LSIS Bradley Darvill)
HMAS Perth fires her 5 inch gun, in company with warships USS Preble and HMNZS Te Kaha as they conduct an anti-aircraft firing serial against a towed target off the Northern Territory coast during Exercise Talisman Sabre 2015.

As Australian soldiers and US Marines landed on the beach at Fog Bay in the Northern Territory, HMAS Arunta and HMAS Perth were on watch, just over the horizon. As part of the Expeditionary Strike Group, the Anzac class frigates were working alongside destroyers and cruisers with aircraft carrier, USS George Washington, as part of Exercise TALISMAN SABRE.

Acting Commanding Officer of HMAS Arunta, LCDR Kingsley Scarce, said the strike group's primary role in the exercise was to make sure the troops got ashore safely. 

"Arunta's roles to date have included defending the group from air, surface and sub-surface attacks," he said. 

"The ship has also been conducting engagements against 'enemy' units.

"The benefits of exercising with the US Navy are vast and varied, the most obvious advantage is the size of the force participating in the exercise. 

"The inclusion of a large number of cutting edge warships and aircraft allow many more training opportunities than a purely Australian Defence Force exercise could accomplish."

Australian personnel can get hands-on experience with capabilities that are either new into service or being brought into service in the coming years. The opportunity to observe AEGIS destroyers and cruisers provides a unique insight into the capability being introduced in the Hobart class destroyers.

Along with the many benefits of working alongside the US Navy there are also challenges. Controlling such a large force requires sophisticated command, control and communications networks. When the navies are operating independently these networks are generally well established an understood but in a combined exercise environment, it takes significant effort to ensure that these networks are established, maintained and understood by all the participants. There are also differences in tactics, techniques and procedures.

Lieutenant Commander Scarce said the most obvious lesson leant in the exercise to date revolved around communication. 

"Being able to communicate in an easy to understand and timely manner is crucial to the successful conduct of the exercise.

"Whilst we are very similar to the US Navy, some terminology used is slightly different and we needed to identify these differences early so we all understood what each other meant."

HMAS Arunta's ship's company have relished the chance for a higher tempo after seven months in refit. 

"It has been a fantastic way to spend our first month at sea since 2014," Lieutenant Commander Scarce said. 

"Operating in close proximity with some of the most powerful warships in the world is something that most in the Australian Navy don't experience outside of exercises such as these."