Amphibious forces join for major exercise

This article has photo gallery Published on LEUT Mick Wheeler (author), PTE Cameron Sykes (photographer)

Topic(s): HMAS Canberra (L02), HMAS Choules (L100), Exercise SEA EXPLORER

Landing craft return to HMAS Canberra on completion of training activities during Exercise SEA EXPLORER 2018. (photo: PTE Cameron Sykes)
Landing craft return to HMAS Canberra on completion of training activities during Exercise SEA EXPLORER 2018.

Navy’s amphibious focus has shifted into top gear with two Task Groups now deployed across the region. While the Indo-Pacific Endeavour Task Group continues its successful deployment in the South West Pacific, a major exercise has concluded off the north Queensland coast. Exercise SEA EXPLORER was one of a series of exercises, providing an opportunity for both Navy and Army to participate in community events in the town of Bowen. 

Amphibious operations are among the most complex, required for humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, non-combatant evacuation, and joint combat operations. SEA EXPLORER was held over the anniversary of the D-Day landings, which took place on the 6th June 1944 on the coast of France. Commander of the Amphibious Task Group, Captain Paul O’Grady, acknowledged both the historic significance of the exercise as well as the importance of support from the community.

“SEA EXPLORER 2018 coincided with the anniversary of the D-Day landings which of course was the largest amphibious operation in history,” he said.

“Some 500 Australian sailors participated in D-Day, with the Royal Navy operating landing craft with similarity to the landing craft activity that has been undertaken with this exercise.”

SEA EXPLORER has tested Navy’s ability to deploy an amphibious force in a controlled environment. But even under controlled circumstances, these sorts of activities involve many moving parts. 

HMAS Choules was among ships participating in Exercise SEA EXPLORER, having just completed another amphibious activity during Exercise CROIX DU SUD in New Caledonia. But it was Navy’s LHD HMAS Canberra which was centrepiece to the exercise with aircraft and landing craft being deployed on a constant basis to move and support troops as they made landings along the coastline around Bowen.

Commander Landing Force, Colonel Malcolm Wells said Sea Explorer provided a first-class opportunity to continue the ADF’s development of a full-spectrum, truly joint, amphibious capability.  

“Each time we do this our understanding of each Service grows,” COL Wells said.  

“Unquestionably this is a joint endeavour and not possible without the full cooperation of each Service." 

Exercise Sea Explorer also involved significant efforts ashore. The Amphibious Task Group (ATG) itself is based at Fleet Headquarters in Sydney. They are an integral part of the Fleet Battle Staff in the COMWAR Branch. The ATG Headquarters typically comprises a standing staff of 60 personnel from across Navy, Army and Airforce with a diverse array of ranks and specialisations represented.   

“Our people are permanently on 48 hours notice to move for a range of situations,” CAPT O’Grady said.

“In fact, our staff can double in size to well over 100 for activities such as the Sea Series and major Exercises such as TALISMAN SABRE.

“I am very proud of our people’s ability to plan, adapt to and execute complex amphibious activities across the full spectrum of operations.”