USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD 6), followed by the amphibious dock landing ship USS Germantown (LSD 42), sails through the Coral Sea during exercise Talisman Saber. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Apprentice Edward Guttierrez III)

CORAL SEA - The Bonhomme Richard Expeditionary Strike Group (ESG) teamed up with forces from the George Washington Carrier Strike Group and Australian Defence Force (ADF) to conduct an air defense exercise (ADEX) in support of exercise Talisman Saber 2013, July 22.

Talisman Saber is a biennial training exercise aimed at improving ADF and U.S. combat readiness and interoperability as a Combined Joint Task Force.

"The ADEX that we participated in today, specific to the Bonhomme Richard ESG, was run in order to test the defensive capabilities of the ships," said Lt. Cmdr. Connor McLemore, future operations officer of Tactical Air Control Squadron (TACRON) 12 embarked on USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD 6). "The idea is to integrate [all units] into one effective team and then test the response of that team against enemy aircraft."

Royal Australian Navy (RAN) ships attached to the Bonhomme Richard ESG, HMAS Perth (FFH 157) and HMAS Choules (LSD 100), also participated in the exercise, which provided an opportunity for the combined force to identify a simulated enemy aircraft and enact pre-planned responses to the incursion.

"Our integration with the Australians is going extremely well," said McLemore. "That's not always an easy thing to say. It's been great working with the Australians. They have critical roles, so they are thoroughly integrated as part of the exercise and things have gone extremely smoothly."

Throughout Talisman Saber, U.S. and Australian forces have been working very closely as a combined task force in a challenging environment.

"I coordinate my entire flight program with TACRON; they are our link to the other combined task forces," said RAN Lt. Mark O'Donnell, flight operations officer assigned to the pre-commissioned unit HMAS Canberra (LHD 02) and embarked with the Australian staff aboard Bonhomme Richard. "Our relationship is really good. Australia and the U.S. want to work together and we love to work together."

The more than five hour ADEX evolution proved to be a valuable learning experience for not only the pilots in the air, but also the flight operations officers coordinating behind the scenes.

"It has been an incredible training opportunity as a whole for all participants," said McLemore. "We've been able to see how the Australians operate and to operate in environments we haven't operated in before. It's been a completely new challenge to come to Australia and work with people we haven't worked with before and do things we just don't usually get the opportunity to do. You just don't get the opportunity to train like this every day."

TACRON 12 is part of the Bonhomme Richard ESG, commanded by Commander, Amphibious Force 7th Fleet, Rear Adm. Jeffrey A. Harley, headquartered in White Beach, Okinawa, Japan.