Tongans and Australians combine to defend Havelock
1 November 2017
A dynamic exercise scenario involving humanitarian aid and disaster response missions, peace keeping operations and conventional war fighting is providing a challenging and valuable training environment for the soldiers of 1RAR’s Alpha Company.
Alpha Company is in New Zealand for Exercise Southern Katipo 2017 - the largest coalition and joint exercise conducted by the New Zealand Defence Force.
The exercise scenario centres around a multi-national Task Force mission to restore law and order in the fictitious South West Pacific nation of ‘Becara’ (set in New Zealand’s South Island), so that the Bacaran Government can wrangle back control from insurgents.
Three-thousand troops from thirteen countries are participating in the biennial exercise, operating in 17 fixed-wing aircraft, six helicopters and five ships.
The exercise also involves government and civilian agencies, including Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.
Alpha Company has combined with a company of Royal Tongan Marines for the exercise, under the command of Australian Army Infantry Officer, Officer Commanding Alpha Company 1RAR, Major Nicholas Kelly.
“Our current role in the early phase of the exercise is to provide security to the town of Havelock and to gain information about the threat groups operating in the area,” Major Kelly said.
“This will allow Task Group Headquarters to make informed decisions when planning future operations.
“Recently, we were advised the enemy had fired on a Non-Government Organisation in a small town called Okaramio, about 15 miles from Havelock.”
Under orders from the New Zealand-led Task Group Headquarters, Major Kelly took a combined platoon from Alpha Company and the Royal Tongan Marines to Okaramio in a convoy of Australian Army Bushmasters.
“We went to the location and were immediately fired upon from a high vantage point in the distance,” Major Kelly said.
“I think the enemy was expecting us to withdraw, but we decided to attack their position.
Major Kelly said he had an Australian infantry soldier from signals platoon attached to the Tongan platoon for the exercise.
“This gave me the communications infrastructure I needed to guide the Tongans onto the objective while an Australian Army element moved into an ambush position and our Protected Mobility Vehicles provided fire support,” he said.
“The Tongan platoon had to climb up some very difficult terrain through a dense pine forest to reach the enemy position.
“They attacked it aggressively and were eventually able to destroy the enemy snipers.”
Major Kelly said the scenario provided an excellent opportunity to test and prove the combined platoon’s adaptability when the nature of its operations rapidly changed.
“We were able to achieve a quick transition from stability operations, where we were patrolling the streets and protecting the local population, to a conventional offensive operation in the form of an attack against an enemy group once we were under threat,” Major Kelly said.
“At the strategic level, it is really important that all of these countries involved in Southern Katipo can work well together, particularly with those from the South West Pacific and South East Asian nations, because it is possible we may need to do so in the future.”
“This makes interoperability between our nations a critical training objective for this exercise.”
As for the interoperability between the Australian soldiers and Tongan marines at the company level, Major Kelly said things were working particularly well.
“The working relationship between the Australian soldiers and the Tongans is very good,” he said.
“This arrangement gives the Tongan marines the opportunity to work as part of a company, which they otherwise wouldn’t have the size to do.
“And, in killing four enemy in very quick succession during today’s attack, they proved that although they operate very differently to us, they are just as lethal and effective.”
Exercise Southern Katipo will continue in New Zealand until mid-November.