‘Olympics of war games’: This year’s Talisman Sabre is most ambitious ever, official says
Stars and Stripes July 25, 2023
TOWNSVILLE FIELD TRAINING AREA, Australia — This year’s Talisman Sabre is the “biggest and most ambitious” version of the multinational exercise ever and Australia’s largest military undertaking in more than a century, according to U.S. and Australian military officials.
The exercise, with 30,000 troops from 13 countries, kicked off with a ceremony Friday but swung into gear with two live-fire drills the following day at sites 1,000 miles apart. Talisman Sabre, hosted by Australia along its eastern coast, is scheduled to conclude Aug. 4.
More than a third of those troops are operating out of a training area in Townsville, about 840 miles northwest of Brisbane, where the largest ground-based drills are taking place, said Col. Ben McLennan, commander of the Australian army’s Combat Training Center.
Over 10 days, the 10 participating forces there will maneuver throughout a 17,000-square-mile area in a force-on-force exercise pitting two halves of the international coalition against each other, he said. The size of the operation alone for the Australian military is matched only by its operations on the Western Front during World War I.
“This is a demonstration; I don’t know how more tangible you need to get. Doing this is not easy. It’s really hard; it’s really complex,” he told reporters touring the training area on Monday. “This activity is a demonstration of our wide commitment to a peaceful, prosperous region and that demonstration will resonate in Australia and our region and across the world.”
The forces are using tactics employed during the ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine, including extensive drone coverage, cyberwarfare, attempts to conceal or disguise assets and the use of dragon teeth — sharp, pyramid-shaped anti-tank fortification, McLennan said.
“This activity that’s occurring here is just the richest and most immersive, most realistic, no-consequence training environment that we can possibly create,” McLennan said. “We’re calling it the ‘Olympics of war games,’ because it’s the biggest, most ambitious Talisman Sabre ever.”
Standing in front of a massive map of northeastern Australia, McLennan detailed a scenario the Townsville-based troops will be acting out. The Blue Force, scripted as the “good guys,” are squaring up against the enemy Red Force, which “comprehensively” outmatches the Blue Force in every way possible, from numbers to equipment.
“That enemy element has all the capabilities across space, cyber, land, maritime and air that one would anticipate a peer threat being able to bring to bear against an Australian-United States coalition,” he said.
The exercise is only nominally scripted and “highly adaptive,” McLennan said.
“Cognitively and physically, it’s a contest of wills,” he said.
Leading the exercise is the U.S. Army’s 196th Infantry Brigade out of Oahu, Hawaii, and the Australian army’s Combat Training Center headquartered in Townsville This is the first time the two militaries have fully combined their combat training centers, said U.S. Army Col. Bryan Martin, operations group commander for the Joint Pacific Multinational Readiness Center.
“If you’re going to run a forge, you’ve got to be a pretty strong blacksmith,” he told reporters during the tour. “By working together and figuring out each other’s techniques, different tactics and procedures for running the forge, if you will, you’ll just make a better-quality product for the forces and their training.”