TOWNSHEND ISLAND, Queensland, Australia -- The fire mission came from an Australian command center, was relayed through an American forward observer, and executed by a team of American artillerymen followed by Australian helicopters in close air support.
This was one of many training scenarios Marines and Sailors of the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit and soldiers of the 107 Battery, 4th Regiment, Royal Australian Artillery, completed during a four-day, live-fire exercise following the conclusion of Talisman Saber 13 here, July 31 through Aug. 3.
The 31st MEU fielded M327 120mm mortars on internally transportable vehicles, M252 81mm mortars, M777 Howitzer 155mm cannons, AH-1W Super Cobra helicopters, UH-1Y Venom helicopters and AV-8B Harrier jets. The Australians fielded M777 Howitzer 155mm cannons and Tiger Armed Reconnaissance Helicopters.
The training exercise was also supported by naval gunfire from the USS Chung-Hoon, an Arleigh Burke-class AEGIS destroyer, and the HMAS Perth III, an ANZAC Class frigate, and two B-52 Stratofortress aircraft.
The wide array of artillery, aircraft and naval support allowed the bilateral gathering of forward observers, forward air controllers and fire direction officers to ply their trades completely. ‘Fire support’ refers to coordinating artillery missions, naval gunfire and close air support during operations.
“Having all of these fire support assets out here allows us to fully integrate them, when we so often only get to work with one or two (of the assets),” said Capt. Jasen E. Lee, a team leader for the Air Naval Gunfire Liaison Detachment of the 31st MEU. “When we have the entire (fire support) spectrum like this, it allows us to train to the most complex situations we could encounter.”
Equally as important as the array of firepower was the full integration of U.S. and Australian forces in coordinating fire missions. Working from the backs of armored vehicles, the Australian Joint Fires and Effects Coordination Center was camped less than ten feet from the armored vehicles housing the 31st MEU's Fire Support Coordination Center.
These two coordination centers generated fire missions and relayed them via radio to the collection of Marine and Australian forward observers and forward air controllers on the hill overlooking the target area.
The bilateral force of observers and air controllers then relayed the necessary targeting information to the artillery, mortars, ships and aircraft involved. The mass of explosions that followed the process signaled a successful cooperative effort.
"Training like this is important to ensure our guys can work together in a coalition and can work to a certain standard," said Capt. Jimmy L. Wood, battery captain for 107 Btry, 4th Reg., RAA, and a native of Yeppoon, Australia. "It is important to know how allies train, what is done differently, and how to alter your procedures so there is a minimum of friction."
Minimizing friction does more than expedite the process of coordinated fires between the forces; it also ensures the safety of everyone involved. Combining ground fire support assets with air fire support assets requires detailed coordination to ensure aircraft are not travelling through the continuous fire of artillery, mortars or naval guns.
This de-confliction of fire support assets is accomplished in three ways: laterally, by altitude and with time. Lateral de-confliction is accomplished by providing the aircraft a terrain feature to stay east or west of during close air support. Altitude de-confliction occurs by providing the aircraft with a safe altitude fly above all incoming fire. Time de-confliction is facilitated by ceasing ground fire-support while aircraft are inbound.
"Working through all of the de-confliction methods with multiple assets firing, that was definitely one of the most beneficial aspects of this training exercise," Staff Sgt. Jeremy J. Huss, staff noncommissioned officer-in-charge, ANGLICO detachment, 31st MEU, and a native of Kaukauna, Wisc.
While working through the complexities of coordinated fire-support missions, the bilateral force gained valuable familiarity with each other. On most of their operations and procedures, the Marines and their Australian counterparts found common ground.
"It's been great getting familiar and finding out that we do most things the same way," said Lance Bombardier Lolo Tuungafasi, a forward observer for 107 Btry., 4th Reg., RAA, and a native of Marrickville, Australia. "It was good to learn how the (Marine) fire-support teams are organized and how they are a little different from ours."
The multi-day exercise advanced the skills and experience of both forces, and helped to strengthen the bond between the Marines and their Australian counterparts. Each force departed the small island with valuable experience and a few new friends.
"It starts with swapping a few ration packs, but field exercises like this develops relationships where these guys will keep in contact for years," said Wood. "I think the dudes found this very fulfilling."
The live-fire exercise provided effective and intense training to ensure U.S. and Australian forces are capable, interoperable, deployable on short notice and combat ready. The 31st MEU is the Marine Corps' force in readiness for the Asia Pacific region and the only continuously forward-deployed MEU.