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Militarising Australia: Talisman Sabre and the US Military Build Up

Deemed the Expeditionary Advanced Base Operations strategy, the military method is a US Marine special, still spanking new, featuring “the amphibious landing of troops on islands for seizure and capture as part of a forward projection of sea and air-power aimed at the mainland.”

That particular description comes from Bevan Ramsden, an active member of the coordinating committee of IPAN, the Independent and Peaceful Australia Network. IPAN has been decidedly concerned about what it sees, rightly, as an enthusiastic, boisterous build-up of US military forces primarily in the Northern Territory and ambling across the continent and along the shorelines.

The Australian Defence Department adds to Ramsden’s overview in a discussion of Talisman Sabre, a joint US-Australian military exercise conducted since 2007. “TS19 will be the eighth iteration of the exercise and consists of a Field Training Exercise incorporating force preparation (logistic) activities, amphibious landings, land force manoeuvre, urban operations, air operations, maritime operations and Special Forces activities.”

On this occasion, Talisman Sabre had a new addition: Japan’s 1st Amphibious Rapid Deployment Regiment, which joined in beach landings alongside Australian, US and British forces on July 16. Australian commander Major General Justin “Jake” Ellwood was notably impressed by the showing. And a sight it proved to be: some 34,000 troops, 200 planes and 60 naval vessels.

What the Australian Defence Force cannot shy away from is that it remains, ultimately, an annex of the US military machine. In a report from the Headquarters, Joint Operations Command (HQJOC) from April, an acknowledgement is made that TS19, “is focused on enhancing the readiness and interoperability of ADF Defence elements and exposing participants to a wide spectrum of military capabilities and training experiences.” It is presumed, and never challenged, that such exercises are “in support of Australia’s national interests” begging the question whether any state should ever be so utterly interoperable with foreign military forces.

The US imperium was keen, using Australian facilities, to test the EABO in scenarios which envisage a concept of island seizure and, in the words of the official website of the US Marines, “distribute lethality by providing land-based options for increasing the number of sensors and shooters beyond the upper limit imposed by the quantity of seagoing platforms available.” The integration of the Marines into the broader operations of the US Navy is an essential feature of this move. This would, in turn, deny access to enemy vessels and aircraft, making the target of this clear: any power keen to challenge US power in the Pacific. As James Lacey, who teaches at the Marine Corps War College suggests, “the Marines will help ensure that the US Navy retains its freedom of manoeuvre throughout the Pacific, while curtailing China’s ability to get much beyond its littorals.” What a lovely future confrontation this promises to be.

The TS19 show was also a display of military plumage and provocation. US Marine Colonel Matthew Sieber made the aim of it clear: “to walk away having strengthened that relationship [between participants] and to demonstrate to our would-be partners or adversaries the strength of that alliance.”

The scale of TS19 has proven hefty, comprising whole swathes of the country. An important feature of this is not to frighten the locals, who might be put off by the sheer scale of it all. Do not, for instance, give the impression they are living under the cloud of occupation. “Welcome,” comes the jolly opening to the Australian Defence Department’s information site, where “you will learn about TS19, the importance of the exercise to preparing our military, how we involve the community and protect the environment.”

The Defence Department leaves us this impression of movement and deployment across the country, and even then, struggles to make the monster innocuous: “Large convoys will be on the roads from June to August 2019 and includes Australian, US and New Zealand military vehicles travelling from across Australia and converging at Rockhampton and Shoalwater Bay Area.”

To reassure environmental activists and residents, TS19 emphasises a lack of “live-fire activities”, something seen as a marked improvement. In other words, no underwater detonations or demolitions, naval gunnery and aerial bombardment; in place of that, dummy ammunition would be used, with added pyrotechnics to give effect. But as Friends of the Earth Australia noted in May, this would not be the case at Shoalwater Bay, nor various lead-up or follow on activities. These “are not assessed as part of Talisman Sabre because they fall outside of the official exercise dates.” Hair splitting operatives will eventually get to you.

Even since Talisman Sabre became a regular feature of joint Australian-US operations, a nervousness among activist circles has grown. What, for instance, are the neighbours to think about such displays of force? The Chinese People’s Liberation Army, for instance, was very keen to monitor TS19 activities with a general intelligence vessel, known as the Type 815. This was a repeat performance from 2017, when a Type 815 AGI also kept an eye on the Talisman Sabre exercises.

More broadly speaking, protests against the US military juggernaut Down Under remain skimpy, with efforts of resistance confined to conferences intended to raise awareness. The latest word from Washington is a promise to build more than a quarter of a billion dollars worth of naval facilities in Darwin and its environs, a move that delights more than alarms. In 2015, for instance, a solitary stand was made by Justin Tutty off Lee Point, Darwin, a modest effort that led to his arrest. Two other protestors made their way to the Shoalwater Bay live-firing range in a disruptive effort. This year, IPAN intends holding a national public conference in Darwin from August 2 to 4 with the theme “Australia at the Crossroads: Time for an independent foreign policy.” It promises few converts, given the continuing presence of the faithful at such gatherings.

More common, and creepily voyeuristic, is the spectator element of such exercises, the weak-at-the-knee individuals aroused by displays of power. Ready your deckchairs and chilled chardonnay and observe the proceedings unfold. That, at least, is how the owners of beach land at Stanage Bay, Ivonne and Fred Burns, saw it. In the words of Ivonne Burns, “It’s incredible just to watch it all… to see it all happening before your eyes, in your own backyard.” Or not, if Washington’s adventurism gets out of hand, leaving Australia with more than just a bloody nose.

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  1. New England Cocky

    Australia has been a country restrained by a US Occupation Force based in Darwin NT allegedly to protect American gas interests on the NorthWest Shelf. The current announcement of a new $300 MILLION US military base outside Darwin is to overcome any disadvantage of the Australian government leasing Port Darwin to a PRC communist Chinese government corporation. Now there is reported to be another 2,500 US military personnel being deployed to Australia … for no apparent good reason.

    But checking geography, there appears to be few impediments to this US Occupation Force ‘invading’ Canberra or any other metropolitan city in Australia.

    Then there is the Virgin proposal to train about 500 pilots per year for the PC communist Chinese Air Force at the former RAAF Flying School premises in Tamworth NSW, vacated by the RAAF to satisfy a political desire to bolster COALition support in a regional electorate around Sale Victoria.

    Machiavelli was correct. A good government provides strong defence force of national citizens rather than rely upon the whims of foreign mercenaries.

  2. Matters Not


    Virgin proposal to train about 500 pilots per year for the PC communist Chinese Air Force …

    Lots of murkiness surrounding that.

    Virgin Australia, which is listed on the Australian Securities Exchange (ASX) is overwhelmingly foreign-owned . Chinese entities owned at least 42 per cent of the airline at the end of last financial year.

    … to gain control of the current Tamworth RAAF training facility are Chinese conglomerate HNA Group – which has close links to the Chinese Communist Party – and Winbright Overseas Investment Limited … site that Virgin Australia, HNA Group and Beijing Winbright Investment Co are seeking to gain control of is a specialised military training facility that for the past three decades has been at the heart of the Australian Defence Force’s aviation training operations.

    Always knew that socialism ran deep in National Party ranks, but Chinese communist … Don’t tell Barnaby because he’ll be in for his chop as well. Then again, there’s always a chance of a bit of Chinese skirt …

  3. Karen Kyle

    Very scary article. Thank you, Matters Not. I would much rather the Yanks than the CCP thanks very much. The sneaky bastards. Did they think they would get away with it? And five hundred pilots a year? Civil or military? And they have wormed their way into the Port of Darwin. Kick them out I say.

  4. Karen Kyle

    Hell…….Military pilots. How big an Airforce do they plan? And why?

  5. Michael Taylor

    OTMP, for some reason your comment was caught in the system. Our apologies for that.

  6. johno

    War toys, boring, waste of money and resources.

  7. Karen Kyle

    It would be hard to vote hard left.They don’t field candidates to start with and even on the rare occassions they do put someone up for local government they lose. No-one is interested and they never have been..

  8. Patricia

    Hyman beings never learn do they? And I mean all human beings not just the warmongering US and its idiotic acolytes, Aust and the UK.

    The US is losing its power, the power that it has been told, since 1945, is its right, to rule the world, and now it is flexing its muscles and co-opting other countries to join it in one last ditch pitch at setting the world at war and on fire again.

    I guess there is a bright side to it though, in a macabre sort of way, in that these constant wars keep the population down a bit.

  9. Matters Not

    KK, re ‘hard left’:

    No-one is interested and they never have been

    Not sure of that. Would’ve thought that there’s been many times in the past when people were very interested in what might be called the ‘hard left’. And were prepared to take action on the basis of that interest. Take the Tolpuddle Martyrs as an example (random). Surely these six agricultural labourers who contributed so much to early trade union and workers rights movements and who aroused widespread interest were from the ‘hard left’ – given their swearing of a secret oath – and their historical context.

    Or have times changed. And so many improvements made that the reasons for the ‘hard left’ have been undermined? Though some may beg to differ. CFFMMEU for example?

  10. Phil

    KK knows nothing outside of her hatred for Russian’s she is a TROLL nothing more. I would be surprised if she went to high school. I can get more sense out of my pet galah.

    So we are training Chinese pilots. Big deal, we have been training the Indonesian military forces for years.

    But 500 a year. I call bullshit. What are they going to do truck the aviation fuel in by road? Bullshit.

  11. Karen Kyle

    Matters Not, I am talking about the failure of Marxism to capture the public imagination and support.. The Toll Puddle Martyrs were not Marxists. In fact until recently most left thinkers in the UK were not Marxists. After all, the Brits have their own socialists and socialist history e.g. Robert Owen, the Fabian Society etc.

  12. Karen Kyle

    And do have a look at the Society of Friends or Quakers. A fascinating and inspirational group who founded the Cadbury Company and the town of Bournville. To say this group of Protestant Christians treated their workers well is an understatement. And it became a tradition in the Confectionary industry which for a time was dominated by Quakers and included Hershy spelling… America. I guess you would call that Christian Left. And the Society of Friends are still politically active today.

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