08 August, 2023
Around 300 New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) personnel are returning home after participating in the largest-ever iteration of Exercise Talisman Sabre, which ran in Queensland from late July to early August and involved around 30,000 military personnel from 13 countries.
During the exercise, a 150-strong NZ Army combat team, mounted in NZ Light Armoured Vehicles formed a battlegroup with soldiers from Fiji, Australia, France, and the United States.
The combat team used its speed and firepower to clear and destroy enemy defensive positions and seize objectives, to allow the wider battlegroup freedom to take further action.
Battlegroup headquarters had access to direct and indirect fire support, reconnaissance assets and sniper teams. New Zealand liaison officers at headquarters learned about Australian process and procedures, as well as assisting the Australians with planning and their understanding of New Zealand capabilities.
This enabled the battlegroup to best use NZ Army capability on the battlefield.
The exercise confirmed the NZ Army’s readiness to conduct combat operations and to test interoperability with the Australians and others, as well as the integration of signals, intelligence, infantry, armour and others.
Major Steffan Wuts, the Officer Commanding the combat team, said the soldiers’ performance confirmed New Zealand’s training was of a high calibre.
“The great part about this exercise is that we get to practise operating in an unfamiliar environment with other factors like flanking multinational forces, which adds a level of complexity that we wouldn’t get in our usual training,” he said.
“Although the overall tempo of the exercise is probably slower than what we were expecting because of its size, we did have contact with the enemy, we went into our trained and rehearsed standard operating procedures and for the most part that put us in good stead to beat the enemy’s actions.”
Three Royal New Zealand Air Force NH90 helicopters and 50 personnel, including aircrew, aircraft maintenance, safety, communication and information systems, intelligence, medical and logistics, also participated in the exercise.
They formed part of an Anzac unit contributing to an aviation battle group which supported air mobile operations and troop movements.
A 10-strong Royal New Zealand Navy autonomous underwater vehicle team embarked on expeditionary ship USS Miguel Keith, joining a Royal Australian Navy combined mine counter measures task force.
They practised sonar searching of areas to detect mines and provided in-depth underwater examination prior to dive teams being deployed to disarm or destroy the ordnance.
Lieutenant Colonel Jacob Murray, the NZDF Senior National Officer for the exercise, said the NZDF’s purpose was to keep New Zealand safe and secure.
“To achieve this, the core role of the NZDF must be the readiness to conduct combat operations,” he said.
“The performance of our team demonstrates the professionalism of our people and the quality of our training systems."
Talisman Sabre was also the first time New Zealand and Australia have exercised together since the signing of the Plan ANZAC bilateral service cooperation plan, which formalises Army to Army cooperation across strategic engagement, capability, training, readiness and common personnel issues.
“This has given us the chance to observe the Australian Army’s application of its doctrine in a large-scale combat focused activity,” said Assistant Chief of NZ Army for Training, Colonel Aidan Shattock.
“The analysis of these observations will inform our doctrinal alignment with Australia and define our future approach to training and tactics.”
Lieutenant Colonel Benjamin Watson, Commanding Officer, 8th/9th Battalion, The Royal Australian Regiment, said the New Zealand combat team was well prepared and integrated easily into the battlegroup.
“It was very reassuring to have the Kiwis as part of the team. Our history, as two Armies working alongside each other, is rich and this exercise only highlighted that the future remains brighter than ever,” he said.