AUGUST 5, 2022 – Marine Rotational Force-Darwin (MRF-D) conducted Exercise KOOLENDONG 22, a complex training event to enhance combined and joint interoperability alongside elements of the U.S. Army, U.S. Air Force, and the Australian Defence Force (ADF) from July 10 – August 2.
KOOLENDONG historically served as the culminating exercise for MRF-D and highlighted large-scale, combined arms capabilities of the Marine Air Ground Task Force (MAGTF) along with allied and joint forces. This year’s exercise was similar as KOOLENDONG 22 featured a combined and joint force of MRF-D Marines and Sailors, U.S. Soldiers and Airmen, and soldiers, sailors, and airmen from the ADF. Instead of featuring large-scale combined arms live-fire, however, MRF-D 22 shifted KOOLENDONG’s focus to expeditionary advanced base operations (EABO) and challenged the team to command and control the force across massive distances, multiple locations, and difficult terrain.
“We will have U.S. Marines, Sailors, Soldiers, and Airmen alongside ADF soldiers and personnel conducting live and non-live-fire, and command and control, in Darwin, Mount Bundey, Broome, Curtin, and Yampi, across hundreds of miles of air, land, and sea lines of communication,” said Colonel Chris Steele, the MAGTF commander when providing his initial commander’s intent for the exercise. “In my mind we always need to be ready to fight alongside our Australian allies and our joint partners, and KOOLENDONG 22 provided us the opportunity to practice just that.”
With support from the ADF and other assets, MRF-D transported hundreds of personnel and equipment pieces from the Northern Territory to Western Australia, encompassing a distance of over 1,000 kilometers (650 miles). MRF-D utilized various air, land, and sea methods to conduct logistics throughout the exercise, including a U.S. Army logistics support vessel (LSV) from the 8th Theater Sustainment Command, and Royal Australian Air Force C-17 Globemasters. The distance and terrain forced MRF-D to be creative, flexible, and detailed in the overall logistics plan, which replicated a plan applicable to potential future operations across the Indo-Pacific.
“This annual exercise allows the ADF to rehearse with the US Marines in a combined arms littoral combat scenario,” said Colonel Marcus Constable, the commander of Headquarters, Northern Command. “KOOLENDONG strengthens the US-Australian relationship, advances and validates USMC-ADF interoperability and demonstrates preparedness to respond to a regional crisis.”
Following the complex logistics effort, the exercise force completed a wide variety of training events to further replicate potential crisis response operations in support of our regional allies and partners. KOOLENDONG 22 was a full MAGTF effort, led by the command element which controlled the exercise force and maintained real-world awareness of regional events and operations. While two rifle companies from the ground combat element conducted company attacks and patrolling, another company executed an air assault across the entire distance from Darwin to Curtin in Western Australia. Simultaneously, the logistics combat element conducted movements and resupplies in both training locations, utilizing the combat logistics company construct and Role II medical capability. The aviation combat element supported multiple air assaults along with simulated air defense operations and battlespace awareness repetitions utilizing modern aviation radar capabilities.
Once the MRF-D rifle company seized key terrain in Western Australia, the exercise focus shifted to long-range fire support. Taking advantage of the massive Yampi Sound training area in Western Australia, MRF-D and combined fire support experts conducted strategic targeting alongside strategic United States Air Force assets and Australian jets. U.S. B-2 Spirit Stealth Bombers from the 509th Bomb Wing and Royal Australian Air Force F-35A Lightning IIs flew combined bombing missions in support of KOOLENDONG 22.
“The fire support coordination exercise at Yampi Sound was a tremendous and unique opportunity to integrate joint and combined forces in order to set conditions in an expeditionary environment,” explained Air and Naval Gunfire Liaison Company officer-in-charge Lieutenant Jenn Rapach. “Coordinating with both U.S. and Australian Air Force assets alongside Marine Corps and Australian controllers was a rewarding experience and is incredibly important to any future operation in the Indo-Pacific.”
Alongside the MAGTF, an air assault company from partnered 1st Brigade seized key terrain in Mount Bundey, executing a MV-22 Osprey insert followed by force-on-force evolution against elements from the Australian 13th Brigade. Pairing Australian ground combat forces with American aviation combat forces was one of many ways the bilateral team conducted interoperability training.
“Working with MRF-D has been an excited experience for the 5th Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment (5RAR). 5RAR is normally a motorised infantry battalion, but we are undergoing a focus to littoral manoeuvre, and rapidly re-roled as an air assault element for Exercise KOOLENDONG,” said Captain Jacob Bronk, the 5th Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment air assault company commander. “The diggers of 5RAR practiced dismount tactics, techniques, and procedures operating as part of the MAGTF, and the lessons learned from our participation will help ensure that the USMC and the ADF remain ready to operate together in the future.”
KOOLENDONG 22 closed with the introduction of a follow-on force in the form of one reinforced rifle company out of the 1st Marine Division. Lima Company, 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment supported the final phase of the exercise as part of their battalion’s “Readiness Exercise”. This effort involved elements of V35 conducting live and non-live fire maneuver at Range 800 in Camp Pendleton, Fort Hunter Liggett in Northern California, and right here in Australia. With less than 72 hours of notice, Marines and Sailors from V35 departed Southern California and arrived in the Northern Territory to simulate reinforcements to a crisis response operation. Following reception, staging, onward movement, and integration conducted by MRF-D, the V35 company executed a force-on-force movement to contact and live-fire platoon attacks at Mount Bundey.
“I am extremely proud of the entire battalion for their effort and commitment to this exercise. We wanted to prove we can deploy multiple company task forces on short notice to rapidly seize key terrain, and we did just that,” said Lieutenant Colonel Jerome Greco, the commanding officer of 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines. “Spread across thousands of miles in three different locations, our Marines and Sailors, the MRF-D team and our gracious Australian hosts did what professionals do. They fought through friction, solved problems and accomplished the mission. It was a pleasure to train in Australia alongside MRF-D, to take advantage of the excellent training areas and the ADF’s hospitality, and I am especially happy our Marines got to experience such a unique training event.”
In total, Exercise KOOLENDONG 22 took emerging Marine Corps components of EABO and put them into realistic practice. Combined air assaults to seize key terrain and process follow-on forces, long-range joint fire support coordination, long-range air and sea logistics, and in-depth communication pathways across challenging terrain are all key components of future EABO MRF-D 22 executing during the exercise.
“You have to be able to monitor [maritime choke points], to engage an adversary who wants to close it down,” said General David Berger, the 38th Commandant of the Marine Corps during a round table event in Canberra, Australia earlier during the rotation. “We need things like anti-ship capabilities, the surveillance, the collection capabilities in the maritime domain. We need the ability to move laterally, both by air and on the surface at a tactical level, with greater frequency and in smaller numbers.”
For questions regarding this story, please contact the Marine Rotational Force-Darwin media inquiry email address at MRFDMedia@usmc.mil. Imagery from this rotation and previous can be found at dvidshub.net/unit/MRF-D.
Story by Capt. Joseph DiPietro
Marine Rotational Force – Darwin