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Col. Ben McLennan briefs reservist employers on the range of activities carried out during Talisman Sabre 2023 around Townsville, Queensland.
"We've just seen an awesome demonstration of firepower here, from different weapons platforms, from different nations. But importantly, all used the same battlefield command and Strategy Center to aim for those targets," Lt. Gen. Greg Bilton, the Australian Defence Force's chief of joint...
"We've just seen an awesome demonstration of firepower here, from different weapons platforms, from different nations. But importantly, all used the same battlefield command and Strategy Center to aim for those targets," Lt. Gen. Greg Bilton, the Australian Defence Force's chief of joint operations, said.By COLIN CLARKon July 25, 2023 at 9:01 AM
Australian and US M-777A2 towed artillery in live fire exercise at Talisman Sabre 2023 at Shoalwater Bay, Queensland, Australia. (Colin Clark/Breaking Defense)
SHOALWATER BAY, Australia — The crack and boom and smoke and smell of 155mm artillery shells fired from Australia, South Korea and the United States filled the air here, interspersed with the thud of laser-guided bombs from US F-35Bs, the whoosh and crack of HIMARS missiles and the unique thump of the 105mm and 30mm guns on an AC-130 gunship, as more than a dozen countries took part in Australia’s premier exercise, Talisman Sabre.
The exercise, running July 21 through Aug 4, brings together more than 30,000 military personnel from 13 countries, including the host nation, Canada, Fiji, France, Germany, Indonesia, Japan, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, South Korea, Tonga, the United Kingdom and the United States. Personnel from India, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand jointed as observers, as did Breaking Defense for the July 22nd portion of the event.
For this tenth iteration of Talisman Sabre, the nations maneuvered at sea, on land and in the air to find and destroy an unnamed enemy. All the officials involved were careful not to mention any country as “the enemy.” No one said it was China; no one had to.
The hallmark of the impressive combined arms operation was its all domain nature, Lt. Gen. Greg Bilton, the Australian Defence Force’s chief of joint operations, told Breaking Defense.
“We’ve just seen an awesome demonstration of firepower here, from different weapons platforms, from different nations. But importantly, all used the same battlefield command and Strategy Center to aim for those targets,” Bilton said. “And that’s what Talisman Sabre, is all about — preparing for interoperability, preparing for cooperation between our defense forces.”
He gave the example of the AC-130 gunship, which flew its characteristic circles around the target, hammering away with its 105mm capability and the 30mm cannon. While it all looked impressive, Bilton conceded the exercise, with its cast of VIPs and journalists just behind the firing lines, required the imposition of some safety constraints that made it a “little artificial” in the sense that you did not have weapons from sea, air and land all attacking at the same time. (Like other outlets, Breaking Defense accepted accommodation from the Australian government to attend the event.)
“What would actually happen on the battlefield is you’d see much more of a coordinated and simultaneous set of firings. And what you’re trying to do is achieve effects against a target to neutralize it in multiple domains,” he said. “So the aircraft would have been firing at the same time the artillery was.”
Col. Ben McLennan briefs reservist employers on the range of activities carried out during Talisman Sabre 2023 around Townsville, Queensland. (ADF Cpl. Julia Whitwell)
Breaking Defense asked if target data was shared across platforms and between allies, and Bilton said they were. The forward observers “didn’t know [the enemy] was there. It wasn’t a case of just firing. It was a case of acquiring, passing the data for different fire units and sharing that.” Four countries combined observation, targeting and strike to get the job done.
The exercise began with the gorgeous backdrop of a sunlit Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Sydney Opera House, but stretches all the way to Norfolk Island, a unique dot of Australian territory first used by the British as, of course, a penal colony.
The live fire exercise journalists saw was notable for its use of real bombs, rockets and missiles. The HIMARS units from the US Army and Marines actually scooted and fired. The Australian and Americans also fired their M-777A2 towed artillery systems, alongside South Korean Marines who fired their K-9 self-propelled howitzers.
As in a real combat scenario, not everything went perfectly. The Japan Ground Self-Defense Force was set to fire its Chu-SAM surface-to-air missile but its fire radar wasn’t able to adequately lock-on to the drone target flying overhead causing them to miss a short window available for air clearance, Bilton said. He noted the Japanese had fired the missile one day before without any such difficulties. After the journalists left, the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force said the system had successfully fired in a different scenario. The day before, the Japanese successfully launched for the first time on Australian soil their Type 12 surface-to-ship missile.
US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin plans to meet Australian Defense Minister Richard Marles next week and observe the Talisman Sabre Exercise, which continues through August 4. After the exercises, Marles and Austin will join their foreign affairs counterparts, Antony Blinken and Penny Wong, in Brisbane for the annual AUSMIN meetings on July 28-29.