CORAL SEA – Flanked by a U.S. destroyer and four Australian frigates, the Bonhomme Richard Expeditionary Strike Group successfully executed elements of the ‘Up-Gunned ESG’ concept while participating in more than two weeks of live action training as part of Talisman Saber 2017.
The Field Training Exercise (FTX) component of TS17 tested a combined and joint forces’ ability to respond to a crisis situation. Amphibious forces played a critical role in seizing objectives ashore that allowed a land force led by Australian Army’s 3rd Brigade to further deliver stability.
Throughout the exercise, the combined U.S.-Australia-New Zealand amphibious force defended against opposing exercise forces in the air, surface, and undersea domains while delivering combat power against both those forces and opposing forces ashore. The scenarios allowed the ESG to flex its sensors, weapons, and maneuver capability to attain sea control and project power ashore.
“Australia has become one of our most capable amphibious allies in the region. Together we showed during Talisman Saber 17 that we are ready to fight our way into the littorals and simultaneously control the seas and land,” said Rear Adm. Marc Dalton, commander, Expeditionary Strike Group 7 and commander of the combined amphibious force for the exercise. “I couldn’t be more proud of our combined team. We integrated our warfare commanders, ships and embarked ground forces to successfully take the fight to the opposing forces.”
Talisman Saber is a biennial exercise that unites more than 33,000 U.S. and Australian personnel to build on partnerships, interoperability and the ability to respond to contingencies in the region. The exercise also doubled as ESG 7’s certification exercise to remain the Navy’s only forward-deployed certified expeditionary strike group staff.
The myriad of maritime threats put ESG watchstanders to the test. Sailors manning watch stations in their unit’s combat information center (CIC) had to remain vigilant in using pre-planned responses and simulating employment of weapons systems in defense of the ships at sea. As some watchstanders worked to determine a sub’s location, others were coordinating attacks to destroy opposition surface ships.
The Royal Australian Navy Fleet Battle Staff embarked the amphibious assault ship USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD 6) to perform duties as the Sea Combat Commander, managing U.S. and Australian surface forces, multi-mission helicopters, and shore-based maritime patrol aircraft to take control of the surface and undersea from opposing ships and submarines.
While the Fleet Battle Staff was on Bonhomme Richard, the Adelaide-class guided-missile frigate HMAS Darwin (FFG 04) was in charge of the air defense of the ESG, keenly monitoring the skies and directing lethal surface-to-air fires when needed.
Both Australian-led warfare areas were critical to the survivability of the force.
“It was professionally and personally rewarding to be a part of something like this, where we could feel so integrated and part of an amazing team to accomplish the mission,” said Lt. Cmdr. Aaron Scott, future operations officer for the Fleet Battle Staff. “The grouping of Australian frigates alongside the USS Sterrett allowed us to fold in tenets of distributed lethality, effectively using a number of sensors and weapons to protect the force. It was impressive to see how we were able to leverage each other’s capabilities to achieve a combined effect.”
Talisman Saber was also venue for testing capabilities across a wide spectrum.
To add increased capability, the Bonhomme Richard embarked MH-60Rs Sea Hawk helicopters assigned to the “Saberhawks” of Helicopter Maritime Strike Squadron (HSM) 77 who are deployed with the USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 77). While the concept has been used in exercises like Rim of the Pacific, it was the first time MH-60Rs had been embarked on Bonhomme Richard in the Forward Deployed Naval Force.
MH-60Rs provide long-range surface search and undersea search capabilities, as well as offensive firepower within the Up-Gunned ESG concept.
“It was great to work with a coalition partner and practice these skillsets,” said Cmdr. Newt McKissick, executive officer of the “Saberhawks.” “It was also a rewarding experience to partner with the Marine Corps and contribute Navy air capability.”
Green well. Once in the littorals, the ESG conducted its primary mission: launching Marines ashore. A wave of landing craft and U.S. Marine Corps aircraft transported 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit Marines and equipment to landing zones at various junctures in the exercise. MEU Marines trained with the Australian Army within the framework of crisis response once ashore.
The expeditious offload of Marines ashore demonstrated ship-to-shore amphibious capability.
"Amphibious forces remain the heart of the ESG and our Sailors, ships and landing craft personnel did an amazing job off-loading the Marines safely and effectively," said Capt. George Doyon, commander, Amphibious Squadron 11, who commanded the amphibious operations for the strike group. "This exercise has challenged and made us better. I am confident we could stand together with Australia to respond to a contingency."
The U.S.-Australia-New Zealand amphibious force is the aggregate of a U.S.-led expeditionary strike group, an Australian-led amphibious task group, and a number of Australian and U.S. escort ships. The Royal Australian Navy amphibious assault ship HMAS Canberra (L02) has been serving as the amphibious assault ship counterpart to Bonhomme Richard.
The U.S. contribution to the expeditionary strike group consisted of USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD 6), USS Green Bay (LPD 20), USS Ashland (LSD 48), USS Sterett (DDG 104), Naval Beach Unit 7, Sea Helicopter Combat Squadron (HSC) 25, Tactical Squadron (TACRON) 12 and the embarked 31st MEU. MEU personnel include nearly 2,300 Marines from Battalion Landing Team, 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines, Combat Logistics Battalion 31, Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron (VMM) 265 (Reinforced) and Marine Attack Squadron 311.