Maintaining Sea Lines of Communication during Talisman Sabre 2015
24 July 2015
LEUT Robert Webber loves his job as a Reserve Officer in the Royal Australian Navy's Maritime Trade Operations (MTO) unit MTO Team 1.
And why wouldn't he?
"In Exercise Talisman Sabre we get to play in two worlds,” he said. “The real world and the Exercise world."
A Townsville resident, LEUT Webber is currently working alongside RANR and USN counterparts in Darwin, including periods of time embedded at the Darwin Harbour Control Centre.
"In the Exercise world (of mock battles), we’ve been assessing Darwin," he said. "It's been hypothetically bombed and damaged, so we're looking at Darwin's port capabilities for both naval and commercial shipping, and for humanitarian aid and disaster relief."
The scenario continues...
"People evacuating fictitious countries are now on board naval ships," he said. “How does Darwin deal with that? It's been damaged and people may be arriving in large numbers."
Within this Exercise scenario, the MTO personnel have been providing information to their counterparts at the San Diego-based Combined Force Maritime Component Command headquarters (located at Command Third Fleet) to advise what Darwin might do under these conditions.
Happily, it's a military exercise, albeit the largest ever undertaken in Australia, with around 30,000 participants from Australia, the US, Japan and New Zealand actively involved in the Northern Territory and around Shoalwater Bay, Queensland.
While in Darwin for Talisman Sabre, LEUT Webber also performs the "real world" functions of an MTO officer, liaising with the maritime industry and briefing ships' masters on why they're seeing so much military activity, especially the concentrations of warships off the northern Australian coast.
"We're assuring them that nothing's going on, that it's a series of mock war exercises," he said.
"In times of conflict and tension, MTO teams can operate in ports to let them know what the Defence Force is doing and why there might be so many naval ships around."
MTO Team 1 provides a link between the commercial maritime industry and the Australian Defence Force, enabling the protection of seaborne trade while also aiming to optimise military operational effectiveness.
"One of Navy's roles is to protect Australia's trade with other countries," LEUT Webber said. "That means our exports, our imports, our seafarers and our way of life. MTO Team 1 facilitates civil and military cooperation (CIMIC) in the maritime environment – and this is about working effectively together."
For example, if a merchant ship transits from the Indian Ocean or through the Indonesian Archipelago, then enters the Timor Sea where there might be 25 warships and an air craft carrier taking part in the Exercise, the vessel's master or its owners may hold concerns about the activity.
"We let them know that there’s nothing wrong, that what they're seeing is part of an exercise," he said./p>
MTO officers also educate the master mariners on how Navy could help them if the situation was, in fact, real.
"The team can give advice on high risk areas, and how masters can prepare themselves to improve the security and safety of their ship and the people and trade that they carry," LEUT Webber said.
"We inform them about current and evolving situations, and about what protection may be available if required."
Like LEUT Webber, Australia's MTO Reserve officers have a broad range of maritime industry knowledge as many are drawn from civilian employment in the maritime industry. Their participation in the Naval Reserve is only possible through the support of these civilian employers. In LEUT Webber's case, his civilian role is as a Vessel Traffic Services Operator with Maritime Safety Queensland.