Innovation and Adaptation
The Amphibious Beach TeamBy Jack Jones May 14, 2019
The Amphibious Beach Team (ABT) is an element from 35 Water Transport Squadron (35 WTS), 10 Force Support Battalion. The ABT is purpose designed to facilitate the rapid beaching, unloading and turnaround of landing craft as well as the quick and orderly movement of personnel, vehicles, equipment and cargo across a beach during a tactical amphibious lodgement.
The Team comprises marine specialists and cargo specialists from the Royal Australian Corps of Transport (RACT), as well as engineers from both the Royal Australian Engineers (RAE) and Royal Australian Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (RAEME). We also have a signals detachment from 145 Signals Squadron that provides the ABT with communications support.
I commenced Sea Series 18 when I embarked HMAS Canberra in Sydney with a corporal from the ABT. Over the following week I provided subject matter expert advice to the Amphibious Task Group (ATG) as the liaison officer for 35 WTS. I was fortunate enough to represent my Squadron during the planning phases for Exercise Sea Horizon (Ex SH), which saw me back brief the command team of the ATG and witness how planning is conducted at a higher level. During this week I learnt the importance of initiative and establishing interpersonal relationships with members of the ATG and 2nd Battalion Royal Australian Regiment (2 RAR).
After Ex SH, the Blue Force for Hamel 18 embarked at the Port of Brisbane, along with the majority of 35 WTS. A few days later the ABT deployed to Kings Beach, Bowen, to commence Exercise Sea Explorer. Over the following two weeks, the ABT was responsible for training the Blue Force on how to safely and tactically transit from the beach landing site (BLS) through to the back of beach, mounted and dismounted, by day and night. The team also provided vehicle drivers with a recovery brief and demonstration utilising the JD850 Bulldozer.
During our time at Kings Beach, we learnt a lot of valuable lessons that have since enabled the Squadron to amend and update standard operating procedures (SOPs), training programs and identity deficiencies with our equipment. The ABT was lucky enough to be issued the new night fighting equipment (NFE (L53-1BR)), which not only improved safety, but also enhanced our ability to guide vehicles on and off landing craft under blackout conditions. We also learnt about the capability provided by Navy, including the Landing Helicopter Dock (LHD), their landing craft and the different ways of establishing communications from the ship to the shore. The ABT was also fortunate enough to trial a protected mobility vehicle (PMV) as the Beach Command Post, which enabled greater manoeuvrability, protection, firepower and enhanced communications to the primary control ship and the wider battle space.
Our plant operators were afforded the opportunity to trial a new synthetic rope utilised for vehicle recovery. The trial was successful and exceeded our expectations. This was great news for both the roll out of the new Land 121 vehicles and the beaching trials that occurred during the exercise. The JD850 Bulldozer was able to recover a 40M truck with a trailer attached, and on another occasion a disabled LX120-2 with four locked wheels. The introduction of this recovery item has enhanced safety and the capability of the ABT.
Next came Exercise Sea Raider, which commenced with the ABT reconnaissance party (consisting of myself, a corporal and a signaller) inserting with the Joint Pre-Landing Force (JPLF) under the cover of darkness. We inserted approximately 10 kilometres north of the proposed BLS and spent the next two nights manoeuvring south to our objective. On the night of the 15th June, 10 minutes after H-hour, the BLS had been established and the ABT was postured to support the insertion of the Blue Force into Exercise Hamel.
By this stage it was evident that the integration training between the ABT and 2 RAR was beneficial. However, the ABT reconnaissance party would have been better prepared for the early insertion if we had conducted lead up training with the Small Boats Platoon and organised some conditioning training, such as pack marching.
During our time on Sea Raider/Hamel, the ABT needed to remain flexible in order to carry out our normal duties of operating the beach, as well as additional tasks. These additional tasks included bolstering the Military Police during a crowd control operation to prevent the local villagers from disrupting beach landings and establishing a command and control (C2) node for the hard standing with our signals detachment in order to co-ordinate communications to the wider battle space. Furthermore, we conducted a reconnaissance of an alternate landing site in which the reconnaissance team were escorted via PMVs and Australian light armoured vehicles (ASLAVs). We also supplied communications and transportation support after a C-27J airdropped a resupply of rations onto the beach.
It is evident that to enhance the success of a large scale exercise such a Hamel, the Army needs to place a greater emphasis on informing all personnel of the wider picture – not just on the battle that occurs in front of them. Personally, I gathered more information about what was occurring on Hamel via the Australian Army Facebook page than the situation briefs I received during orders. Although this highlights our effective media capability, it would have been beneficial to understand how we influence and shape the wider battle space, as well as the other capabilities within Army.
Sea Series/Hamel provided the ABT with an excellent opportunity to test our capability and identify shortfalls in order to develop and subsequently enhance the support we provide to the Australian Defence Force. We have now commenced a review into Squadron SOPs and held discussions on how we are going to conduct lead-up training for Sea Series 19/Talisman Sabre. We are also in the process of acquiring new equipment in order to better support future exercises and operations.