ADF & USMC conclude Exercise Koolendong, the biggest yet.

Rich red dust swirled and scattered around the boots, tyres, treads and tents of the Combined Task Force ‘GINAN’ this week at Exercise Koolendong.

Rich red dust swirled and scattered around the boots, tyres, treads and tents of the Combined Task Force ‘GINAN’ this week at Exercise Koolendong.

Omnipresent and ubiquitous with the vast, austere and remote Bradshaw Field Training Area, over 600km drive south of Darwin, it typified the prodigious challenge in deploying a bilateral expeditionary force to the sweeping sunburnt outback of one of the largest, military training areas in the world, at over 870,000 hectares (or 3300 square miles!).

Australian Defence Force Troops and United States Marines deployed together from around Australia with small arms weapons, combat packs, vehicles, armour, artillery and airframes, supported on the range by logistics, engineering, healthcare, aviation, security, transport, command, safety and evaluation units.

Commander Australian Army 1st Brigade, Brigadier Ash Collingburn, DSM, lead the exercise, unique in its enormous scale, complexity and combination of capabilities, executing high end, combined-arms warfighting.

“Exercise Koolendong was the culminating activity of the Marine Rotational Force-Darwin and a key training event for the Australian Army in enhancing interoperability and warfighting cooperation between our forces to confirm we can quickly respond to crises in the near region.

End to end, Exercise Koolendong occurs for six weeks from 31 July through to 12 September, including the infill and retrograde phase, where Defence personnel and capability joined together in the field to complete the important training. The intensive task group level warfighting component occurred between 12-29 August.

“We had over 2000 people, and around 500 vehicles out at Bradshaw, making this exercise the biggest one we have had, also special as it is the 10th year of the Marine Rotational Force – Darwin,

2021 marks 70 years since the signing of the ANZUS Treaty with Australia’s most important defence partner.

“Each year, this alliance is strengthened by training shoulder to shoulder on activities such as Exercise Koolendong. Such activities are absolutely critical for us, as we develop our capabilities and collective readiness.

“Since the arrival of MRF-D in April, Australian and U.S. troops have trained together through the ‘crawl, walk, run’ progression and finished with a sprint during Exercise Koolendong.

“We have reached the pinnacle of our training together in 2021: an achievement our troops should be immensely proud of.”

The ‘Road to War’.

This year’s scenario, supplied by the Training Adversary Systems Support Cell, involved fighting a fictitious adversary and near peer competitor located on an archipelago.

It builds on the successes of previous training completed this year – all part of the same evolving scenario beginning with a natural disaster, a destabilising force and working up to CTF GINAN clearing the enemy off ‘Bradshaw Island’, restoring peace and stability, before returning the island in good order to the host nation.

Earlier in 2021, during Exercise Crocodile Response, ADF and MRF-D troops developed their joint Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief capabilities, while the focus for the Marines during Exercise Darrandarra was security and stability through embassy re-enforcement and evacuation mission sets.

Exercise Southern Jackaroo tested the force’s ability to conduct live-fire and manoeuvres with a third partner, the Japan Ground Self Defense Force, while Exercise Loobye kicked-off the activities at Bradshaw Field Training Area, an appropriate sized training area to conduct a High Mobility Artillery Rocket System Rapid Infiltration (HIRAIN) mission and targeted missile strike.

The many combined arms.

Combined arms is an approach to warfare which seeks to integrate different combat arms of a military to achieve mutually complementary effects. Exercise Koolendong featured bilateral combined arms to integrate different combat arms of multiple militaries to achieve mutually complementary effects.

This allowed a battlefield where a USMC RQ21 unmanned Aerial drone was able to detect a target and vector an ADF formation reconnaissance asset —an ASLAV-based cavalry squadron— to conduct close target reconnaissance of the enemy’s disposition.

From their position, the recce callsign was able to use appropriate and available capabilities including artillery strikes from a combined M777 Howitzer gun line or an attack aviation strike from a USMC AH-1Z Viper or UH-1Y Venom -helicopter.

After completing the strike, an Australian mechanised infantry battlegroup is able to conduct a forward passage of lines and battle handover with a USMC ground combat element supported by Australian M1A1 Abrams Main Battle Tanks, ASLAV’s and M113 AS4 Armoured Personnel Carriers. Another Australian infantry-based combat team simultaneously conducts an air assault on an enemy objective further to the north, conducting the Air Mobile Insertion via USMC MV-22B Opsrey tilt rotor aircraft, with ASLAVs conducting deep reconnaissance providing support by fire.

Conducting this type of complex engagement – at times, simultaneously on multiple objectives spread across a vast distance – was the centrepiece of Exercise Koolendong.

In the combined headquarters, communication is key, co-ordination and control, understanding the bigger picture and being brilliant at the basics ensure success and safety of all units during the activity.

Koolendong 2021 exercised in this way with a range of military combat capabilities including simultaneous and co-ordinated live-fire from tanks, armoured personnel carriers, artillery, mortars, infantry small arms and heavy weapons, UAV’s, attack and lift aviation, HIMARS long range strike missiles, and anti-air area denial.

New capabilities training on the front line

Alongside the combined arms warfighting, new capabilities were employed in the field during Exercise Koolendong. These include Optionally Crewed Combat Vehicles, Robotic Dogs, and deployable additive manufacturing capability enabling 3D metal parts to be printed while in the field.

The character of warfare is changing due to the rapid pace of advancing technology, the need to be on the front foot, ahead of any potential adversary through the use of technology, is now more important than ever.

The robotics and autonomous systems under trial in the field are all about giving the combined team a physical and cognitive advantage.

During Exercise Koolendong 2021, the Robotic Dog is being put through its paces to see how troops may use it in the future. It demonstrates  potential to move ahead of our human workforce so that they are not sent into harm’s way, and the Optionally Crewed Combat Vehicles may one day be a force multiplier and beneficial in casualty evacuation situations.

Supporting the combined brigade

Logistics, engineering, healthcare, aviation, security, transport, command and safety units have all have an active role to play in supporting the combined force while training at remote Bradshaw Field Training Area for an extended expeditionary deployment like Koolendong.

About 500 rounds of artillery ordnance, a GIMLARS and Javelin missile rounded out the firepower put down-range during the scenario.

A deployable camp kitchen produced over 45,000 meals with 30 tonnes of fresh produce to supplement field rations to sustain the troops.

Medical staff stationed at Bradshaw conducted around 100 PCR tests for COVID-19 during the activity, keeping the participants of the exercise safe while reducing any potential risk to nearby communities.

A small team of medical specialists from 1st Close Health Battalion were able to preserve the force, keeping troops in the fight by providing high-value primary healthcare in location with around 500 troops presented for medical treatment in the field, with only around 30 departing the training area for further care in Darwin.

1st Combat Engineer Regiment produced 50,000 L of water a day for most of the exercise including surging to 100,000L a day for dust suppression controls. In total, via the Water Purification and Distribution System, the engineers produced and distributed over 1,680,000  litres of water to sustain Combined Task Force Ginan.

1st Combat Service Support Battalion deployed assets to deliver, store and distribute over 346,902 L of Diesel fuel for military vehicles.

Alliance has never been more important

Commanding Officer Marine Rotational Force Darwin, Colonel David Banning said that Exercise Koolendong was the opportunity to demonstrate the tangible tactics, techniques and procedures the combined task force would use to operate in a high end warfighting environment.

“The Australia-US Alliance has never been more important as we look ahead to our shared strategic challenges in the region.” Colonel Banning said.

“The ability of MRF-D and the ADF to conduct this exercise during a pandemic is a testament to the strength of our partnership.”

This year marks 10 years of the US Force Posture Initiatives in Australia and10 rotations of US Marines in Darwin, training and exercising with the Australian Defence Force.

The forces have achieved greater air-to-air integration through the Enhanced Air Co-operation program, RAAF crews regularly exercising with their US partners in the skies.

The year-on-year growth of the military cooperation and the interoperability, modernisation and joint capability represented and executed during Exercise Koolendong 2021 was a demonstration of how far the team has come in the past decade, and the combined commitment to maintain a constant pace of growth into the future.

The ability for the MRF-D and Exercise Koolendong to go-ahead during a global pandemic is a testament to the importance of the alliance and the continuation of progressive training.

“It is a tangible demonstration of ADF and USMC capability to respond to a crisis in the region as a coalition force land component with an integrated coalition command structure.

Commanding Officer Marine Rotational Force – Darwin Colonel David Banning said Koolendong demonstrated that the US and Australia alliance had never been stronger.

“The ability of MRF-D and the ADF to conduct this exercise during a pandemic is a testament to the strength of our partnership.”

“We’ve brought together all the assets of a Marine Air-Ground Task Force and an equivalent ADF force including over 2000 troops, 500 vehicles and 20 airframes”

2021 marks 70 years since the signing of the ANZUS Treaty with Australia’s most important defence partner.

“The Australia-US Alliance has never been more important as we look ahead to our shared strategic challenges in the region.” Colonel Banning said.