Weipa’s air force base will play host to soldiers from Australia and the United States in a couple of months as Defence prepares for a major training exercise.
The COVID-19 pandemic will reduce the number of visiting troops from overseas, but exercise Talisman Sabre 21 is still expected to involve more than 10,000 men and women in what is our largest bilateral combined military training event.
RAAF Base Scherger has been locked in to play a role and Weipa residents should expect to see some aerial activity around the site in July.
The majority of the joint exercise – designed to help improve Australia’s and its allies’ combat readiness and interoperability – will take place in North Queensland, especially around Shoalwater, Townsville and Charters Towers.
“I don’t think Scherger will play a massive role but there should still be some involvement,” a Defence source told Cape York Weekly.
The Australian Defence Force said it was putting in place plans to ensure that it was a COVID-safe exercise.
“In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Defence is adjusting how it does business while still maintaining operational readiness. Talisman Sabre 21 is critical to maintaining that readiness,” the website says.
“Defence will work with relevant authorities to understand and develop safe COVID practices while still allowing the exercise to achieve its objectives.
“Any community engagement that occurs will follow relevant government requirements at the time.”
Meanwhile, one of Australia’s leading think tanks believes the government must invest more in the country’s northern military bases, including RAAF Base Scherger.
John Coyne of the Australia Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI), said that the US military was building its own essential infrastructure in Darwin rather than relying on our facilities.
“In many ways that’s a vote of no confidence in Australia,” he told News Corp.
Last year’s Defence strategic update said Australia might now have fewer than 10 years to prepare for a major conflict.
“We’re not hearing about what under 10 years warning means and where we should put people,” said Dr Coyne.
“A training ground is great but we need to investigate doing more. We need to increase capabilities in Darwin.
“Darwin is the city between two great oceans and is a connection to region, so it’s incredibly important.”
Dr Coyne said improving the facilities around other northern bases, including RAAF Base Scherger, was crucial.
“You have a bare base at Weipa and because Defence refuses to spend money on it – it has a dirt road leading up to it,” he said.
“We have to spend on it now because we’re under 10 years.”
This article appeared in Cape York Weekly, 17 May 2021.