Rappahannock, Alan Shepard drill with Australian Navy during Talisman Sabre

26 July 2021

From Leslie Hull-Ryde, MSC Far East

Partner navies are training to sustain each other in a contested environment.

CORAL SEA - USNS Rappahannock (T-AO 204) and USNS Alan Shepard (T-AKE 3) participated in exercise Talisman Sabre 21 (TS21), a large-scale, bilateral military exercise between Australia and the United States, which began July 18 off the northeast coast of Australia.

“Providing maritime logistics to the fleet is essential to the welfare of our Sailors and Marines and critical to warfighting at sea,” said Rear Adm. Chris Engdahl, commander Expeditionary Strike Group 7.

“These evolutions required patience, precision, and I am consistently impressed with the professionalism and support we receive from the captains and crews of our Military Sealift vessels.”

During the at-sea portion of TS21, partner nations trained together to operate with, and sustain each other in a contested maritime environment. Rappahannock and Alan Shepard worked closely with the Royal Australian Navy’s HMAS Brisbane (DDG 41), HMAS Parramatta (FFH 154) and HMAS Ballarat (FFH 155), conducting a number of maneuvers necessary in that situation.

Events consisted of close-quarter turns, evasion tactics, formation steaming, and emergency breakaway procedures. In addition, crews of the two Military Sealift Command combat logistics ships and the Australian ships practiced bridge-to-bridge communication protocols.

“Exercises such as TS21 are essential to ensure successful combat logistics support of U.S. and allied naval forces. Whether maintaining peacetime freedom of the seas or engaging an aggressive adversary, logistical support of naval assets is a keystone element to a rapid and sustained response,” said Capt. James J. Orsini, master of Rappahannock.

“The more we learn from each other as to how we conduct operations, the better we, as an allied force, can plan for, coordinate with and respond to any tasking.”

Since 2005, Australia, the United States and other multinational partner forces have used this biennial exercise to enhance interoperability by training in complex, multi-domain warfare scenarios that replicate current and potential future global security challenges. For Military Sealift Command ships like Rappahannock and Alan Shepard, TS21 increases capabilities and interoperability to respond to combat operations, disaster response and humanitarian assistance efforts.

“Every time we have an allied ship alongside, we learn something new, whether it be a procedural or equipment compatibility issue,” Orsini said.

“Through exercises like Talisman Sabre, Rappahannock’s crew becomes more adaptive to diverse situations, affording crew members the opportunity to gain and refine the expertise necessary to make on-the-spot adjustments while providing logistical support to partners and allies.”

Jointly sponsored by U.S. Indo-Pacific Command and Joint Operations Command, Australian Defence Force, this year’s exercise was modified in scale due to COVID-19 considerations and incorporated U.S. Army, Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force, as well as the Australian Defence Force and other government agencies from each country. The exercise included a field training exercise incorporating force preparation, theater-setting and sustainment activities; amphibious landings; land forces maneuver; urban operations; air operations; maritime operations; and special forces activities. Along with the opportunity to hone military skills, involvement from Australian and United States government agencies made this a collaborative whole-of-government effort.

The U.S. maritime component of TS21 featured the Navy’s only forward-deployed amphibious ready group (ARG), which includes the amphibious assault ship USS America (LHA 6), the amphibious transport dock ship USS New Orleans (LPD 18) and the amphibious dock landing ship USS Germantown (LSD 42), along with embarked elements of the Okinawa-based 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU). Throughout TS21, Military Sealift Command’s Rappahannock and Alan Shepard conducted replenishments-at-sea with participating ships.

Military Sealift Command Far East ensures approximately 50 ships in the Indo-Pacific region, are manned, trained and equipped to deliver essential supplies, fuel, cargo, and equipment to warfighters, both at sea and on shore.

Task force commanders, like Task Force 76, employ these ships to ensure mission accomplishment.

COMLOG WESTPAC/CTF 73 is the U.S. 7th Fleet's provider of combat-ready logistics, operating government-owned and contracted ships that keep units throughout 7th Fleet armed, fueled and fed.

As the U.S. Navy's largest forward-deployed fleet, 7th Fleet employs 50-70 ships and submarines across the Western Pacific and Indian oceans. U.S. 7th Fleet routinely operates and interacts with 35 maritime nations while conducting missions to preserve and protect a free and open Indo-Pacific Region.

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