BRADSHAW FIELD TRAINING AREA, Northern Territory, Australia -- Kicking up dust and making a lot of noise in the outback, a mixed force of Americans and Australians descended upon targets in a coordinated and destructive attack.
Marines and Sailors with Battalion Landing Team, 2nd Battalion, 4th Marines, 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, along with Marine Rotational Force-Darwin and soldiers with 5th Royal Australian Regiment, conducted an integrated, live-fire training event as a part of Exercise Koolendong 13 here, Sept. 3.
The evolution included numerous ranges spread over thousands of square miles, allowing each company-sized unit to engage targets with live ammunition and achieve specific objectives. The coordinated assault utilized weaponry ranging from small arms weapons like rifle and machine guns, to artillery weapons from the 31st MEU’s battalion landing team, and close air support from helicopters of the 31st MEU’s aviation combat element.
“The training area gave us a chance to demonstrate our capabilities during one huge, live-fire exercise, combining all assets of a (Marine Air-Ground Task Force),” said Cpl. Andrew E. Jensen, an assaultman with Company E., BLT 2/4, 31st MEU, and a native of Saint Cloud, Mn. “This was a realistic scenario, showing we can hit a target with heavy force in an matter of hours.”
Creating a plume of smoke and dust, the Expeditionary Fire Support System, a rifled-towed 120mm mortar, broke the silence with the first rounds on target. Their blasts were followed by the thunderous explosions of the M777A2 Lightweight Howitzer artillery, sending a barrage of shells.
When the dust settled on the target area, MRF-D and Australian forces advanced on their softened targets. Days of coordination paved the way for smooth integration of the 31st MEU’s supporting fires and the advance of their adjacent units. For the soldiers of the 5th RAR, the value of the training was more in the planning than the execution.
“For ourselves, it’s the opportunity to extract ideas and continue to learn from each other,” said Australian Army Maj. Simon N. Croft, a 31-year-old company commander with Company B., 5th Royal Australian Regiment, 1st Brigade, and a native of Brisbane, Queensland, Australia. “There’s a lot of stuff we can learn in terms of logistics and maintaining ourselves in this type of training area.”
Swinging around the edge of the MRF-D and Australian battle space, Light Armored Vehicle 25’s and armored High Mobility Multi-purpose Wheeled Vehicles cleared the way with M242 Bushmaster 25mm machine guns and Browning M2 .50 caliber machine guns.
Following the motorized assault, a platoon-sized Quick Reaction Force of Company E. Marines launched from the USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD 6) more than 90 miles away. The QRF arrived to the battlefield via MV-22 Ospreys from Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron (Reinforced) 265, 31st MEU, approximately twenty minutes after the call for reinforcements.
Supported by M240G Medium machine guns from a position nearby and continuous fire by the Howitzers, the Marines quickly dispatched the notional enemy.
The battalion-sized assault successfully implemented multiple units and numerous weapons systems, demonstrating the potential of the training area for both unilateral and bilateral live-fire operations in the future.
“(Bradshaw Field Training Area) offers both U.S. and Australian units a unique opportunity in the Pacific to train high-end, combined-arms live-fire. We were able to employ all arms of the MAGTF and work with our Australian counterparts under demanding natural conditions,” said Lt. Col. John G. Lehane, the 38-year-old operations officer with the 31st MEU and native of West Hempsted, N.Y. “We have used a relatively small portion of the training area and have only scratched the surface of what could be possible here.”
The 31st MEU moved a battalion-sized force more than 300 miles inland to conduct Exercise Koolendong 13. The exercise demonstrates the operational reach of the 31st MEU and reinforces why the 31st MEU is the force of choice for the Asia-Pacific region. Also participating in the exercise is the Marine Rotational Force – Darwin and soldiers of the 5th Royal Australian Regiment. The 31st MEU brings what it needs to sustain itself to accomplish the mission or to pave the way for follow-on forces.