Exercise Hamel 2018 was held in the Shoalwater Bay Training Area (SWBTA) in June and July, representing the ADF’s major collective training activity for the year.
The biennial series is traditionally also Army’s major field training exercise and its primary purpose is to certify the ADF’s ‘Ready’ Combat Brigade under the Army’s ‘Ready, Readying and Reset’ Force Generation Cycle as outlined in Plan Beersheba.
But is also a very important training exercise in the Joint space and Hamel has seen major growth in this area over the last five years or so - in recognition that a single service will rarely fight on its own in future conflicts, but rather it will operate as a part of a Joint Force in conjunction with other elements of the ADF, other government agencies, and coalition partners.
The Joint Dimension
In recognition of this fact, Hamel 2018 was integrated with the Sea Series Exercise to provide an amphibious dimension, and 8,500 soldiers from the Australian and US Armies, the US Marine Corps and the NZ Defence Force operated in the SWBTA over the course of the exercise. From a Navy perspective, the Landing Helicopter Dock (LHD) HMAS Canberra, Landing Ship Dock (LSD) HMAS Choules, and Anzac-class frigate HMAS Newcastle provided the amphibious dimension and Air Force assets included the EA-18G Growler airborne electronic attack aircraft, F/A-18 strike fighters and C-27J Spartan battlefield airlifters.
mportantly, a whole of government dimension was incorporated into a Hamel exercise for the first time this year, with representation including personnel from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), Emergency Management Australia (EMA) and the Australian Federal Police (AFP).
“Hamel is absolutely a Joint exercise and it’s absolutely a whole of government exercise as well, the training outcomes we’ve achieved certainly reflect that,” explained Brigadier Ben James, Director General Training at Army Headquarters to ADM. “The exercise has evolved enormously over the last five to seven years and the ADF sees it as a key training and capability modernisation opportunity for all our services, so it can’t be anything but Joint. Hamel 2018 has certainly demonstrated the real value of ADF Joint collective training and it has evolved far from just Army exercising largely by itself in Shoalwater Bay. It is a premier hit-out for the ADF and indeed for our whole of government partners.”
Developing the ADF’s amphibious capability
Although the primary goal of Hamel 2018 was the certification of Army’s 7th Brigade, based in Brisbane, as the current ‘Ready’ combat unit under the Force Generation Cycle, the Sea Series Exercise was integrated into the Hamel scenarios to achieve greater resource efficiencies and enhance the training outcomes of both activities.
One of the areas of primary focus with regard to the integrated amphibious activity was the validation of Army’s Townsville-based 2nd Battalion, the Royal Australian Regiment (2 RAR Amphib) to form the nucleus of a Joint Pre-Landing Force (PLF). The PLF essentially comes ashore ahead of the main landing to initially provide intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) to the Task Force Commanders and later to conduct battlefield shaping activities. Under the newly developed amphibious capability, 2 RAR (Amphib) will be the permanent PLF in Army and will act as an amphibious subject matter expert.
The main landing force, or Ground Combat Element (GCE) in amphibious terms, will be rotated through Army’s infantry combat units each year in accordance with the aforementioned Force Generation Cycle. This year Brisbane-based 8/9 RAR were certified in the role and next year it will be the turn of the Adelaide-based 7 RAR. In a non-Hamel year such as 2019, the Sea Series Exercises will be integrated with the Australia-US Talisman Sabre activity.
Hamel 2018 was also a major test for Army Aviation, which conducted a major activity in the SWBTA in support of Land operations, with a task force made up of Tiger Armed Reconnaissance Helicopters and MRH-90 battlefield mobility helicopters. Task Force Griffin operated as a single force under the command of Army’s 1st Aviation Regiment in the training area during the exercise.
Army Aviation also concurrently embarked an Aviation Combat Element (ACE) aboard the Navy’s amphibious ships for the Sea Series dimension, operating two different helicopter types for the first time. The embarked ACE was made up of CH-47F heavy-lift helicopters and MRH-90 Taipans from the 5th Aviation Regiment and conducted tactical operation, including many at night, in support of the amphibious landing.
The Tiger ARH will recommence First of Class flight trials aboard Navy’s LHDs this month, after the previous program was disrupted by the propulsion problems suffered by the two vessels last year. The aim is to have an embarked ACE made up of all three of Army’s combat helicopters aboard one of the LHDs in time for the 2019 Sea Series and Talisman Sabre exercises.
“Hamel 2018 was the first time we’ve had two different aircraft types embarked, in the CH-47F and MRH-90, and next year we’ll have the Tiger ARH aboard as well,” remarked BRIG James. “The Tiger also operated very effectively from shore during the exercise and provided outstanding support for our ground-based elements.”
New platforms and capabilities
New ground was also broken during Hamel 2018, in terms of the first use of Army’s protected vehicle fleet being delivered under Land 121 and it was the first major test under operational conditions of battlefield telecommunications systems being rolled out under Project Currawong (JP2072 Phase 2B).
Currawong is a scalable, distributed Integrated Battle Telecommunications Network (I-BTN) system being delivered by Boeing Defence Australia to replace Army’s ageing Parakeet capability. It is doing this in two stages of equipment release up until 2020 and the project achieved Initial Operational Capability (IOC) in July, 2018. Initial feedback has been overwhelmingly positive and the system reportedly performed extremely well during Hamel.
“Our communications always form a crucial and formal part of the exercise evaluation. Together with our Battlefield Management Systems they are evolving capabilities that are giving our commanders much greater situational awareness to improve the speed at which we can make decisions,” BRIG James said. “Our communications systems performed very well. We are certainly gaining a better situational awareness of what’s happening in our battlespace and we also used Hamel to carry out trials of wireless secret networks as well, to give us greater flexibility in establishing our command and control nodes.”
Together with Navy’s Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) Unit, Army also conducted Vertical Take Off and Landing UAS trials in the SWBTA during the exercise, using Navy’s Schiebel S-100 Camcopter systems.
“We are starting to turn our mind to how we modernise Army’s UAS capability for the future and part of that was the Camcopter trial,” BRIG James added. “We were able to trial that platform, together with its sensor package, on the exercise and it performed very well. It certainly helps Army’s modernisation efforts when we can trial all these things during an exercise scenario.”
The whole of government dimension
Yet another first for the exercise this year was the inclusion of Government representation from organisations like DFAT and the AFP. This dimension has exercised previously during Talisman Sabre, but never before in a Hamel scenario.
One of the scenarios involved a short notice Non-Combatant Evacuation Operation (NEO), which is one of the outcomes Army must be able to demonstrate to Government. One of the participants from DFAT was a former Head of Mission in Lebanon, Ms Lyndall Sachs, who was present during Operation Ramp, the evacuation of 5,300 Australian nationals and 1,300 approved foreign nationals from the country in 2006.
“It was good to have that whole of government representation, to talk about what a Head of Mission might expect from a military force who are supporting DFAT on those operations,” BRIG James said.
Air support for Hamel
Besides the traditional Close Air Support operations provided by the RAAF’s Hornet and Super Hornet strike aircraft, which have long been a feature of Hamel exercises in the past, the 2018 event included the Growler’s electronic warfare capability and the Spartan’s intra-theatre airlift capability for the first time during the series.
In Hamel 2018, the Spartans actually operated from the austere airfields within the SWBTA in direct support of the Land force.
“The C-27Js supported the ground forces in a number of ways: they inserted Special Forces patrols, which was a key to informing our ground manoeuvre, they conducted aerial resupply missions which included support from Army’s 176 Air Dispatch Squadron and they also conducted a number of tactical Air-Land operations, which is picking up troops and inserting them into the battlefield by landing on unprepared runways,” BRIG James said to ADM.
“There is no question that the C-27J is a great Air Force platform and they are a terrific enabler for our ground force commanders.”
The Growlers performed Suppression of Enemy Air Defence (SEAD) operations in support of the amphibious landing, but Hamel was also about fostering an understanding from a Joint Force perspective of its capabilities and support it can provide in a contested electromagnetic spectrum environment.
“A key focus for us is understanding what capability they provide, but also to make sure we have the right C4I systems to integrate them into a broader Joint Force manoeuvre space,” BRIG James added. “Growler and the Joint Task Force Headquarters came through in spades.”
The Beersheba Legacy
Brigadier James credits Army’s recently-completed restructuring under Plan Beersheba for significantly enabling the success of Hamel 2018. He says that one of the key outcomes of Beersheba is how it has enabled Army to focus its efforts on the units and
capabilities that need to be held at the high states of readiness required to fulfil its obligations to the ADF and to Government.
“That is our most important obligation and Hamel very much enables us to achieve that in the certification sense, but the other thing Beersheba does is to allow us space for modernisation and recapitalisation programs – where we can bring new, step-change equipment into those parts of Army that aren’t being involved in certification,” he explained. “So, Beersheba helps us to manage our operational tempo, our modernisation and recapitalisation and, most importantly, manage our preparedness and readiness for Government.”
Outcomes and lessons learned
Brigadier James said that 7 Brigade came through their certification “with flying colours”, and other significant outcomes included the importance of the ADF’s ability to operate alongside its allies and partners. At Hamel 2018, this included working through the process of integrating all the participants into the Joint Force and ensuring that information can be moved around the entire battlespace – Air, Sea and Land domains – in a seamless and timely manner.
“We certainly learned how capable Navy’s LHDs are, in terms of what they can hold, move and deploy, whether that’s in a regional Humanitarian Aid and Disaster Relief (HADR) operation of for high-end warfighting operations. They are a wonderful capability and it was great to have them alongside at Hamel,” he said.
“We also learned a lot about working with Navy, Air Force and whole of government partners. At the end of the day, Army is never going to fight alone and our partners make us much more capable, much harder-hitting and with much greater reach than we could ever hope to achieve as a single service.”
BRIG James says that Army is, as the new Chief of Army Lieutenant General Rick Burr (see this month’s From the Source interview with LTEN Burr for more) describes, an “Army in motion” and Hamel 2018 demonstrated that truism, in terms of preparing for contingencies.
“Hamel really does demonstrate the capacity and the strength of the Joint Force and Army’s key role in that Joint Force. We need to think more in terms of the ADF and whole of government capability, rather than the individual services. Australia needs its ADF far more than it needs its Army, Navy and Air Force - Hamel has evolved to represent that reality,” he concluded.
“Every time we undertake exercises like this, our people never cease to impress me in terms how innovative they are, their professionalism in delivering capability and how capable they are. We are blessed with some really impressive young Australian men and women who serve in our ADF and it’s great to work alongside them on exercises like Hamel.”
This article first appeared in the September 2018 edition of ADM.