The Indo-Pacific Endeavour 2019 (IPE19) joint task force returned to Australia in May after nearly three months away visiting seven countries and travelling 12,500 nautical miles in South- and South-East Asia.

Air Commodore Rick Owen couldn’t help but smile as he reviewed the highlights of commanding IPE19.

“The countries we have visited and the people-to-people engagement have been first class,” said the Commander of Joint Task Force 661.

“I have an immediate success measure of how many people were smiling. Well, from what I’ve seen, there have been lots of smiles.”

Royal Australian Navy, Australian Army, Royal Australian Air Force and United States Marines on board HMAS Canberra during entry into Vietnam as part of Indo-Pacific Endeavour 2019. Photo: Leading Seaman Jake Badior.

“It is a major contribution to regional security and stability and deepens Australia’s engagement and partnerships with regional security forces.”

IPE19 departed Fremantle on March 11 and travelled with up to 1200 personnel, four ships, eight helicopters, a P-8A Poseidon aircraft and a Collins-class submarine.

“Indo-Pacific Endeavour is one of the most important annual activities of the Australian Defence Force (ADF),” Air Commodore Owen said.

“It is a major contribution to regional security and stability and deepens Australia’s engagement and partnerships with regional security forces.”

The deployment included disaster assistance planning, community outreach, defence industry exhibitions and receptions for regional VIPs and communities on board HMAS Canberra as the task group visited Sri Lanka, India, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, Singapore and Indonesia.

The flagship HMAS Canberra was joined by HMA Ships Success, Newcastle and Parramatta.

“The real success of IPE19 may not be known until countries in our region, including Australia, need help from each other."

The Australian Army’s 2nd and 3rd Battalions, the Army Band, RAAF personnel and Australian Public Service employees also formed part of the joint task force.

Air Commodore Owen reiterated this was how the ADF now operated.

“The joint nature of this is a message from Australia to the region that this is how we will conduct ourselves in the future. The jobs we do in the military are too big for one service to do alone, and IPE19 is a manifestation of that,” he said.

HMA ships Canberra and Newcastle sail in company with Sri Lankan Navy vessel Sayurala and Sri Lankan Coast Guard vessel Suraksah (front) during Indo-Pacific Endeavour 2019. Photo: Able Seaman Kieren Whiteley

He said the third iteration of the engagement reinforced how Australia helped ensure the region was secure and prosperous.

“I think each IPE improves on the last as we get used to each other, build closer relationships and focus more on the finer details of what we can achieve together,” Air Commodore Owen said.

“The real success of IPE19 may not be known until countries in our region, including Australia, need help from each other.

“That could be next year, it could be seven years down the track.  If we build that trust and those capability knowledge bases, we will know who to call.”

Members of HMAS Newcastle’s boarding party demonstrate boarding drills to members of the Royal Thai Navy and Australian Border Force on board HMAS Newcastle during Indo-Pacific Endeavour 2019. Photo: Leading Seaman Kylie Jagiello

Air Commodore Owen said each country had its highlights.

“The opportunity to commemorate Anzac Day in Malaysia, experience the wonderful cultural shows on arrival into each new port and witness the Joint Task Force members make lasting memories with people from all over the Indo-Pacific region, all of these have made this deployment a fantastic time for many of the members involved,” he said.

His personal highlight was dancing with the embarked Army band on Canberra and in ports from Malaysia to Vietnam.

“We’ve been able to engage all sorts of different young communities using music, using song, using dance, so having that Army band and projecting a more human perspective on what we do was important. They have done a great job,” he said.