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Eye spy for China as Sabre hits Cape

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Photo: Cape York Weekly

The Australian Defence Force is playing its cards close to its chest regarding the role of RAAF Base Scherger, but Cape York residents should expect to see aerial activity in the region over the next 10 days.

“Defence intends to utilise RAAF Base Scherger during Exercise Talisman Sabre 21 as the facility provides an important opportunity for the practice of rapid airbase activation and subsequent flying operations from the Royal Australian Air Force’s northern austere bare base and strategic outpost,” a Defence spokesperson told Cape York Weekly.

“Activating RAAF Base Scherger for Talisman Sabre 21 will involve standing up the infrastructure and support required to establish a fully functioning airfield.

“This will include deployable air traffic control, communications, logistics and basic life support.”

Australian Army Bombardier Christian Hughes (right) welcomes US Marine Corps Lance Corporal Kenneth Palacious into the combined gun team at Shoalwater Bay Training Area in during Exercise Talisman Sabre. Photo: Cape York Weekly

Commander of the ADF’s Deployable Joint Force Headquarters, Major General Jake Ellwood, said the high-end war exercise was designed to enhance the interoperability between the ADF and the US armed forces.

“Exercise Talisman Sabre reflects the strength of the Australia-US alliance and the close and enduring nature of our military relationship,” Major General Ellwood said.

“This year’s exercise will involve more than 17,000 personnel from Australia and the United States, deploying across central and north-east Queensland and off the east coast of Australia, as well as 40 aircraft from the Royal Australian Air Force.”

In addition to the US, forces from Canada, Japan, New Zealand, the Republic of Korea and the United Kingdom will participate in TS21, and Australian-based personnel from India, Indonesia, France and Germany will observe the exercise.

A majority of these international forces will participate exclusively offshore, including about 5000 who will participate as part of a US Navy Expeditionary Strike Group, in a contactless component to the exercise.

China watching

Defence Minister Peter Dutton said he was surprised China decided to send a second spy ship to monitor the exercises.

Chinese surveillance ship
The Chinese surveillance ship Tianwangxing travelled through the Torres Strait and is sitting off the coast of Queensland in an attempt to ‘listen in’ on Exercise Talisman Sabre, a joint military exercise between the Australian and United States militaries. Photo: Cape York Weekly

He said it was not unusual for China to deploy a ship during such manoeuvres, having done so in both 2017 and 2019.

“We are surprised there are two vessels, but obviously the Chinese have made a decision to have a greater presence,” he told reporters on Sunday.

“We would expect them to operate and conduct themselves within the rules of international law.”

Spy ship Tianwangxing was tracked by the ADF as it transited through the Torres Strait towards Queensland waters, but the Haiwangxing approached through the Solomon Sea around Papua New Guinea.

On Sunday, the US military conducted a live-fire demonstration of its High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS), technology at Shoalwater.

Cape York Weekly 20 July 2021

This article appeared in Cape York Weekly, 20 July 2021.


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