Talisman Sabre 23 Field Exercise Sets Benchmark For Combined Military Training In Indo-Pacific


By Joseph Clark

Inside a small tent on a sprawling military training range on Australia’s northeast coast, U.S. and Australian exercise planners are immersed as the product of years of painstaking preparation unfolds in real time.  

A large screen at one end displays red and blue dots overlayed on a digital topographic map depicting the real-time positions of thousands of troops from 10 different nations.  

Just outside the tent, military helicopters take off and land as U.S. and Australian troops patrol the training area’s sprawling ranges alongside their partner forces.      

“You’re currently standing in what we call the Field of Dreams,” said Australian Army Col. Ben McLennan, commander of the Australian Defense Force’s Combat Training Centre, as he welcomed reporters on Monday to the Townsville Field Training Area. The training area is the epicenter of the 10-day field training exercise taking place during Talisman Sabre 23.  

“This activity that’s occurring here is just the richest, most immersive and most realistic, no-consequence training environment that we can possibly create,” he said. “We’re calling it the Olympics of war games because it’s the biggest, most ambitious Talisman Sabre ever.” 

This year marks the 10th iteration of Talisman Sabre, a biennial exercise 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. 

Thirteen nations from Japan to Germany are participating in this year’s full exercise. 

The 15-day exercise includes a variety of large-scale logistics and amphibious assault training operations and multinational firepower demonstrations, in addition to the field training exercise. Several Pacific Island partners — including Papua New Guinea, Fiji and Tonga — are participating for the first time. 

Ten nations will make up the combined force that will face off, as part of the field-training portion of the exercise, against an enemy designed to have “comprehensive overmatch” over the coalition forces across all warfighting functions.  

“That enemy element has all the capabilities across space, cyber, land, maritime and air that one would anticipate a peer threat to be able to bring to bear against Australia, United States and coalition partners,” McLennan said.  

U.S. Army Col. Ben Martin, operations commander for the Joint Pacific Multinational Readiness Center, said the scenario  “reads right out of the most recent, emerging doctrine from both of our countries.”  

He said putting that doctrine into practice in a realistic and dynamic training environment is critical for being prepared to win in the next conflict.  

“Big exercises like this are where we can induce the fog and friction of stress, the closest we can get to actual real combat on our respective combined forces, so that when that day comes, that they’re trained and they’re ready,” he said. 

Creating that environment, which was designed with input from both U.S. and Australian planners, is the product of tireless planning and unprecedented execution. 

Participating countries have, for weeks leading up to the exercise, undergone the planning and manpower-intensive process of moving equipment into theater. Many of the units will be deploying a variety of capabilities for the first time on such a large scale. There are 30,000 troops participating in the full exercise and 10,000 participating in the field portion. 

McLennan said the training itself serves as a “demonstration of collective resolve” on behalf of each nation to train and operate together to preserve the rules-based order in the Indo-Pacific.  

“United States and Australia have been aligned, have been close allies, and have been working together, training together for generations. But what we’re achieving here is really an amazing break into a new chapter in our story when it comes to how we train together, learning how we might operate together, how we might fight together,” he said.  

“This is historic,” McLennan said.  

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