Exercise Talisman Sabre, underway now in Australia, is building far more than military expertise and interoperability – it is building relationships and friendships that will pay off in the years ahead, said U.S. and Australian leaders as they toured the exercise headquarters in Townsville.
Australian Defense Minister Richard Marles, who also serves as his country's deputy prime minister, and Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III met with commanders and troops participating in the exercise at Lavarack Barracks.
The actual exercise spans a huge swath of Australia and adjacent waters. More than 30,000 service members are participating in this 10th iteration of Exercise Talisman Sabre.
U.S. and Australian service members have a long history of working together."
Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III
Talisman Sabre began as a simple, bilateral exercise featuring Australian and U.S. forces, but it has grown to include Fiji, France, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Tonga, the United Kingdom, Canada and Germany. Service members from the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand are observing the operation this year.
The biennial exercise is designed to advance a free and open Indo-Pacific by strengthening partnerships and interoperability among key allies. The spelling of the name — sabre vs. saber — reflects which country is leading the exercise: Talisman Sabre when Australia leads and Talisman Saber when the U.S. leads.
Marles and Austin spoke to several hundred service members at the base of Australia's defense forces.
"U.S. and Australian service members have a long history of working together," Austin said. "In fact, we've fought alongside each other in nearly every war. And, as many of you know, I spent a little time wearing a uniform — about 41 years — and a good part of that time … was in combat. Some of you I served with in combat. I was never in combat when I didn't turn to my right or left and see Australian soldiers, sailors, airmen, as well as many of the allies and partners that are that are represented here today.
"This is what we're about," the secretary continued. "We're about interoperability. We're about working together. We're about promoting a common vision of a free and open Indo-Pacific."
The secretary said the United States will continue to stand with allies like Australia and the others participating in Talisman Sabre. The nations share a common vision, he said.
"Together you are bolstering deterrence by building capacity alongside our allies and partners, and you're practicing logistics interoperability under realistic conditions, so that we can improve combined capabilities as well as our responses to a range of potential contingencies," he said. "Together, you continue to build combat readiness."
Marles was struck by the sense of teamwork exhibited by the participants. He said he's impressed with the expertise and professionalism the forces display.
"But as important as those skills are, as important as the experiences that we gain from those activities, more important than all of it is the relationships which are being built and created and which will endure when this exercise comes to an end," he said.
The Talisman Sabre nations are building connections with each other "which enhances the collective security of the Indo-Pacific region," Marles said. "Ultimately, that is … why our defense forces exist in this part of the world."
The exercise is challenging and involves risks, as the crash of an Australian helicopter at sea on Friday evening showed. Search and rescue efforts for the crew of four continue, Marles said.
Australia is roughly the size of the continental United States, but has a population of four million less than Texas – the second most populous state in the United States. The Australian Defence Force has roughly 60,000 on active duty with another 40,000 reservists. The country "punches above its weight," said Royal Australian Air Force Wing Commander Steve Laredo during a briefing for reporters.
The exercise is realistic and designed to test abilities, equipment and personnel. "The whole reason for doing these activities is to find out where those shortfalls are," Laredo said.
They look for radios that can't talk to each other or a code system that doesn't connect properly or tactics that don't fit with those of allies and partners. "This is where we find these rough points," Laredo said.
Laredo said he expects Talisman Sabre to continue to grow in the years ahead.