For the first time in Cope North history, Pacific Air Forces (PACAF) invited the Royal Australian Air Force to lead the Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief (HADR) mission.

The trilateral exercise demonstrates combat readiness, streamlines humanitarian assistance procedures and enhances interoperability between the forces of the United States, Australia and Japan.

In response to a natural disaster scenario, the Multinational Task Force Headquarters (MNTF HQ) was established at Andersen Air Force Base (AAFB) bringing together all three nations to integrate, plan and execute a Contingency Response Squadron (CRS) for the islands north of Guam.

MNTF CN20, and Officer Commanding 95 Wing, Group  Captain Mark Larter, said leading the HADR component for the first time was a privilege.

“This is a reflection of USAF’s deep respect and confidence in RAAF’s ability to lead and plan a major tri-nation exercise in a professional, credible and safe manner,” Group Captain Larter said.

The CN20 HADR phase focused on the establishment of an airhead, from which medical support can be established and humanitarian aid can be distributed.

Deputy Commander to the task element at 'Bykira' (Tinian), Squadron Leader Ben Mason, said during the planning phase a concept of operations was developed and briefed to the MNTF commander for endorsement.

“From there, force flow was planned with key personnel from USAF, JASDF and RAAF to deploy beyond the 4SQN initial insertion” Squadron Leader said.

“On the ground, I received the back brief from Combat Control team leader SGT M on the current situation, we then commenced the establishment of the Air Point of Disembarkation [APOD] near Baker Airfield to FOC within 48 hours.”

The initial “blue forces” insertion team is formed from all three nations to maximise trilateral training opportunities from the planning phase through to living and working accommodation in support of air operations.

Back in Australia, No. 381 Squadron is one of three RAAF CRS responsible for providing a scalable airbase operational capability for the Australian Government.

This capability includes airfield engineering, logistics, security, intelligence, communications, health and a robust command and control structure. 

Corporal Jodi Denovan is part of the logistics team that moves supplies from Guam to the APOD location.

“Since we arrived on the island, we’ve coordinated all the cargo off the aircraft and set up the site plan to support the HADR activity,” Corporal Denovan said.

“There are lots of moving parts to make sure the base has everything it needs and we also designate supplies to where they belong to support the mission.

“We built the deployable tents making sure our personnel have shelter and storage for food and water. We will continue to manage resupplies throughout the activity.” 

Wing Commander Melissa Neilson is the Military Commander leading the trilateral task force on the ground at Tinian.

“Essentially our role is to establish and operate an airfield from an Austere location like the one we are currently in, to ensure air operations can occur effectively and safely,” Wing Commander Neilson said.

“The CRS is exposed to several realistic scenarios developed by RAAF No. 295 Squadron with USAF and JASDF role players.

“The first was a health scenario where we were able to practise our trilateral health response followed by Medical Evacuation capability to return the “patient” to Guam for further treatment. It was a great example of all three nations working together.

“Cope North provides a great opportunity for our nations to come together and although we operate quite similarly, realistic training helps us to prepare for real time disaster events that our region is prone to.”

With the help of linguists, the HADR activity was able to overcome the challenge of language barriers allowing each nation to adapt quickly to each scenario. 

"The CN20 training opportunities for CSG forces and our capabilities are extremely important as we continue to improve our ability to conduct HADR operations with our regional partners, as well as enhance interoperability and communication with our USAF and JASDF counterparts,” Group Captain Larter said.

"It's been a hugely rewarding to observe the incremental learning of our personnel as they take on valuable lessons throughout the exercise. 

“They have performed with aplomb, and the USAF and JASDF are full of admiration regarding our work ethic, experience and innovation. 

“I am extremely proud of the way the Royal Australian Air Force has performed and contributed to this highly successful HADR exercise."

The relationships built and sustained with multinational partners in the Indo-Pacific region through exercises, civil military operations and military exchanges help tremendously in humanitarian efforts and in preserving peace and stability in the region.