Australian, 31st MEU conduct artillery, mortar missions

20 Jul 2009 | Lance Cpl. Michael Bianco

Nearly 150 Australian Defence Force members teamed up with more than 60 Marines and sailors from the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit to conduct a joint coalition combined-arms live-fire exercise, July 9-15.

            Australian and U.S. firepower included artillery, mortars, air support and naval surface fires.

            The Royal Australian Artillery’s 1st Field Regiment accounted for Australia’s artillery fire, with forward observers from the Australian Army’s 7th Brigade. The 6th Battalion Royal Australian Regiment supplied mortar support and released more than 300 rounds into the targeted area.  Marines and sailors from 5th Air Naval Gunfire Liaison Company participated as forward observers during the exercise as well.

            According to Lt. Col. Stuart Kenny, Australian Army 1st Field Regiment commanding officer, one key goal of the exercise was to familiarize Australian Army mortarmen with U.S. rounds. The M889 high explosive, 853 A1 illumination and M37 white phosphorus rounds will replace the Australians current ammunition as early as January 2010. Along with mortars, said Kenny, the rounds used in the Australian Army’s artillery batteries will upgrade to the M777, 155 mm Howitzer canon. 

            “As allies, we want to make sure they are accustomed to using the ammunition and are satisfied with it before they begin firing it,” said Gunnery Sgt. Timothy Harvey, 81 mm mortar platoon sergeant from Weapons Company, Battalion Landing Team, 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines, 31st MEU.

            Kenny said the exercise served as a chance for Australian and U.S. coalition forces to enhance interoperability, communication and teamwork.

            “The objective of the exercise was for both sides to practice joint planning, coordination and execution of joint fires,” he said. “This was a key milestone before our upcoming deployments.”

            According to Harvey, the exercise was excellent training all around because service members on both sides may encounter similar scenarios during future real-world operations.

            “Many environmental elements such as hillsides and firing at targets below us match what we will see in theater,” he said.

            The exercise was part of the 31st MEU’s participation in Exercise Talisman Saber 2009.  TS ’09 is a biennial combined training activity designed to train Australian and U.S. forces in planning and conducting combined task force operations, which will help improve combined readiness and interoperability.

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