Rows of gold-braided officer's hats deposited on tables outside the Fleet Commanders' Conference at the Darwin Convention Centre reflected the sheer number of senior participants from Indo-Pacific forces.

The conference was a core event of Exercise Kakadu 2022, the Royal Australian Navy’s flagship regional engagement activity.

About 3000 participants from more than 20 nations ranging from sailors to fleet commanders have converged on Darwin for a series of shore and sea-based activities.

Commander Australian Fleet Rear Admiral Jonathan Earley, who gave the conference opening address, said maritime security needed cooperation by all those who use the sea.

“Our ability to constructively work together is crucial for the security and prosperity of all our nations,” Rear Admiral Earley said.

“Over the last three decades, Kakadu has gone through different phases. Today it is one of our most important exercises. An exercise that is of great value to us. And just as importantly, an exercise we aim to be of great value to you and your commands.

“It is a modern expression of the cooperative engagement by seafarers in our region over many thousands of years.”

Commodore Mal Wise outlined how Navy’s Indo-Pacific Endeavour (IPE) deployments enhanced Australia’s partnerships in the region.

He said a typical IPE included collaborative activities with government agencies in areas such as fisheries, maritime safety, border protection and health. 

Macquarie University scholar Justin Burke shared his research on naval diplomacy, particularly from an Australian perspective.

He said events such as the Fleet Commanders' Conference were incredibly helpful in building trust and relationships, which can be called on in a crisis.

“It inspires me to imagine that the conversations, the new or renewed friendships, the commitments to stay in touch made here and this week will serve the vital cause of preserving our free and open rules-based Indo-Pacific,” Mr Burke said.

This year marks the 15th biennial iteration of Exercise Kakadu.

The Darwin-centred exercise has grown in size and complexity since it began in 1993.

Kakadu was cancelled in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.