For the first time since its inception in 2010, all four regional partners from across the Asia–Pacific rim gathered recently for Exercise COOPERATION SPIRIT 2015.
The humanitarian assistance and disaster relief exercise, conducted at RAAF Base Williamtown, involved 10 Australian Defence Force members, five from People’s Republic of China, four from the US Pacific Command and two from the New Zealand Defence Force.
Commander Joint Operations, Vice Admiral David Johnston, said the exercise was an opportunity to deepen understanding and coordination of our respective capabilities and plans.
“The Asia Pacific is a region prone to natural disasters, which makes humanitarian assistance and disaster relief a natural and important area of cooperation between countries in our region,” he said.
“The exercise is designed to build our collective capacity to provide a disaster relief response in the future.”
The exercise consisted of seminars and a table-top activity based on a fictitious scenario of cyclone damage to a South Pacific nation.
“Unfortunately such scenarios do have real-world application with Cyclone Pam impacting on Vanuatu early in 2015,” Vice Admiral Johnston said.
Lieutenant Commander Jace Hutchison, of the Australian Defence College in Canberra, said he participated as a maritime planner and was able to leverage off his experience in the Amphibious Task Group, which was often involved in humanitarian assistance and disaster relief missions.
“The types of disaster events that occur in our region always bring together a range of countries who wish to assist the host nation in some way,” he said.
“It is really important we are able to understand what each country is able to bring to the table in terms of manpower, air and surface lift platforms, humanitarian stores, engineering support and medical aid.
“The more we can work together and get to know each other, the more we are able to gain efficiency in the way we allocate resources to tasks on behalf of our individual governments.”
Lieutenant Commander Hutchison said the success of the exercise was demonstrated to him by the way the participants from each nation were able to collaborate and, in a short space of time, develop a workable plan to assist the host nation.
“It was clear that even in a simulated situation the focus was always on the country and its citizens in need,” he said.
“This is no easy feat when each nation plans and operates differently and there are significant language barriers to overcome.
“This was a great opportunity to play host to our international partners and I certainly learnt a lot about how we can work together in the future.”
The exercise was first undertaken as a bilateral one between Australia and China in 2010, and has subsequently been expanded to a quadrilateral exercise between Australia, China, New Zealand and the United States.