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 surface-to-air fire 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 a fantastic 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 the venue for testing capabilities across a broad spectrum.
To add increased capability, Bonhomme Richard embarked MH-60R 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 were 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 skill sets," 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."
The exercise was also an opportunity for the ESG to conduct its primary mission: launching Marines ashore. A wave of landing craft and U.S. Marine Corps aircraft transported 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit Marines (MEU) 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 efficiently," 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.