Planning and coordination key to KAKADU

This article has photo gallery Published on LEUT Nicholas Robinson (author), LSIS Tom Gibson (photographer)

Location(s): Darwin, Northern Territory

Topic(s): HMAS Coonawarra, Exercise KAKADU

Naval Harbour Master Darwin, Lieutenant Commander Paul Ruhl, RAN and Seaman Boatswains Mate Maddison Ball at HMAS Coonawarra during Exercise Kakadu 2016. (photo: LSIS Tom Gibson)
Naval Harbour Master Darwin, Lieutenant Commander Paul Ruhl, RAN and Seaman Boatswains Mate Maddison Ball at HMAS Coonawarra during Exercise Kakadu 2016.

Behind the action unfolding at sea off the coast of northern Australia as part of Exercise KAKADU, Exercise Director, Captain Nick Woodley, ensures the coordination allows all units involved to meet the exercise’s objectives.

KAKADU involves more than 3,000 personnel, 18 warships, and 19 aircraft from 19 nations. Coordination of Australia’s largest maritime exercise, with such a large number of complex moving parts, is no short order.

Captain Woodley heads up the team supporting the exercise from the headquarters ashore in Darwin.

“During the exercise we have almost 50 personnel who are collectively operating 24 hours a day, seven days a week to support the fleet at sea and squadrons in the air,” he said.

“These personnel are from a wide range of specialisations including operations, planning, logistics, legal, intelligence, communications, public affairs, cultural awareness, maritime trade, aviation and submarines.

“Beyond the Exercise KAKADU Headquarters, we also have multiple organisations which assist us in bringing the exercise together including Air Traffic Control, Navy Port Services and the Darwin Port Authority.”

The Naval Harbour Master of Darwin, Lieutenant Commander Paul Ruhl, manages the movement of all ships to and from the Darwin Navy base, HMAS Coonawarra, with his team at Port Services.

On a normal day, Coonawarra is the busiest Navy port in Australia.

“Once you overlay the additional exercise requirements for the Australian fleet as well as our regional partners, this is an extremely busy period for us,” Lieutenant Commander Ruhl said.

“Our team is well rehearsed and comfortably managing the traffic in and out of this strategic base.”

Lieutenant Commander Geoff Hart-Davies, Maritime Trade Operations, is the Officer in Charge of the Shipping Coordination Team which is operating on the opposite side of Darwin, at the Darwin Port.

“Our unit has been stood up during this period to specifically support Exercise KAKADU.

“We are here to ensure alignment of any military activity with the commercial and civilian interests at sea.

“It is an important responsibility for us to keep our headquarters informed of civilian movements, and advise civilian vessels of our activities, so everyone has a clear and coordinated picture of the exercise environment,” Lieutenant Commander Hart-Davies said.

The aims of KAKADU are to develop interoperability with Australia’s regional partners, enhancing the capabilities of the Royal Australian Navy, the Royal Australian Air Force and each of the participating military forces. 

Exercises such as KAKADU enable the Australian Defence Force to demonstrate its ability to establish a temporary headquarters in northern Australia and conduct maritime and air operations in the maritime environment.