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Transcript of media briefing: Thursday 20 March 2003: Australia's commitment to global operations.



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Thursday, 20 March 2003 200303/03

Transcript

Media Briefing

Australia’s commitment to Global Operations

Thursday 20 March 2003

PRESENTER: Good morning ladies and gentlemen and welcome to our update on Australia's commitment to global operations.

Today's briefing will be conducted by Brigadier Mike Hannan, who I'll introduce to you now.

BRIGADIER MIKE HANNAN: Well good morning ladies and gentlemen. Thank you for attending the first of our regular operational updates after the start of Operation Falcon. And welcome to those people joining us on Russnet* - our internal video conferencing system.

And so we begin. Operation Falconer* is the name given to the ADF contribution to the coalition to disarm Iraq. These briefings will be given regularly throughout the operation. The frequency will depend on the tempo of operations, however we will tend to provide briefings even when there's not too much new information, so that at least there's an opportunity for you to ask questions and of course so there's an opportunity for us to distribute any new vision. It's likely we'll move to daily briefings when that becomes appropriate.

In addition, the ADF will join our coalition partners and provide operations briefings in the Middle East area of operations once operations get under underway, and that will be the major source of release of tactical information about what's happening in the area.

Let me begin this briefing by bringing you up to date with events over the last few days from the ADF perspective.

After the government decided to commit those ADF elements already deployed to the Middle East to operations to disarm Iraq, the Chief of the Defence Force issued the necessary orders to the forces deployed in the Gulf.

The orders provide the legal authority for the tactical commanders to respond to the coalition tactical commanders who would control operations.

The CDF has also issued an order of the day advising the ADF of the new situation.

It's worth restating at the outset that our forces, although they could respond to coalition tactical commanders, remain under Australian national command and that of Brigadier Maurie McMahon. And they would not undertake any operational activity without his approval.

Now this system of command ensures that Australian forces continue to carry out tasks that are consistent with the Australian government policy, and of course with the ADF's legal responsibilities.

I'll begin this look at the area of operations with a weather report. And unfortunately the weather has been pretty tough over the last few days. And this is predicted to continue for the next few. Winds have reached speeds of up to 65 kilometres an hour and have whipped powerful dust storms.

Aircraft maintainers have had to work hard to protect their machinery from the fine particular dust that forms an all enveloping brown-out.

Visibility has been down to as little as 70 metres, and flying conditions have been tough for both fixed and rotary wing aircraft.

Equipment maintainers have been using the calm periods to improve and maintain the dust sealing on their machines.

Now of course our forces have had plenty of experience with dusty conditions here in northern Australia, and our gear is generally well proven in these types of conditions, and of course our people know how to keep it going.

Some general comments about the preparations for operations that would be going on in the area of operations at the moment are also appropriate.

Of course we don't talk about current or future operations for obvious operational security reasons, and the specific preparations that are underway fall into this area.

What I can talk about however is the type of preparations that would be underway in each environment, and to give you some sense of what's going on there.

Let's start as always with maritime operations. The Royal Australian Navy's three ships in the area of operations - HMAS Anzac, Darwin and Kanimbla - are continuing with their current multinational interception force operations, whilst obviously undergoing all necessary preparations for the change in circumstances in this area.

Because the ships have been operating at a high state of readiness throughout their current deployment to the region, it will be fairly seamless transition for them to any subsequent tasks.

Constant training on board the ships however includes a range of activities specifically designed for the future. Air and surface defence drills - which includes the testing and retesting of all our weapons systems - and damage control drills - where the crew practice procedures used on the

ship if the ship is attacked or damaged in any way. And the two critical issues here are clearly fire and flooding, which are the great fear of sailors at sea.

Chemical and biological response drills are also tested and trained, at both an individual level and at a ship level.

There's small arms training for the crew, and of course casualty recovery and treatment drills are trained.

Boarding parties will probably remain an important feature of activities, and boarding party drills and training are continuing.

And of course helicopter operations. HMAS Kanimbla is a fine helicopter platform, and there's a wide range of skills that need to be practiced in that area.

The daily routine on the ships will continue at its normal demanding pace for all hands. Many of the jobs on board of course have core tasks that are similar regardless of the type of operations - the chefs still chef, and the combat systems operators still operate their combat systems.

Now today's video clip, for the maritime component, shows some pretty graphic footage of boarding parties in action, and I hope you find that useful.

Meanwhile, the Navy's clearance diving team is conducting extensive work-up training in order to conduct mine clearance and explosive ordinance disposal tasks as required.

Now this work-up preparation would include thorough testing of all the equipment and mission rehearsals to exercise all of their contingency plans. And you'll see the word rehearsals appear again and again in terms of the various components rehearsing what we're going to do in the future is a key preparation for all of our combat elements.

The Army's LCM8 landing craft have also been busy. And as you've seen in the media, they've been undertaking tasks with the British forces over the past few days. These are highly versatile craft, and they'll have a wide range of tasks over the days to come. They're particularly valuable because of their shallow draft, allows them to operate in the extremely shallow waters up in the northern Persian Gulf and the waterways attached to it.

I'd like to move on now to land operations. Now the Special Forces Task Group by this stage will have received their orders through the chain of command, they will be transitioning from their acclimatisation and general training programs, and they will be undertaking preparation specific to the operations ahead.

Now battle procedure is the expression used in the Army to describe the range of tasks that the unit would be undertaking at this timed preparing for battle.

So if you hear me using that bit of jargon in the future, that's what it refers to.

In general, the sorts of things that are done as part of battle procedure include obviously preparing and issuing the orders, confirming the governing rules of engagement, and ensuring that all tasks comply with Australian Government policy, checking the equipment over and over again, test firing the weapons, testing our nuclear, biological and chemical defence systems, and particularly making sure the personal protection equipment is functioning perfectly, and that these individuals are fully skilled and able to defend themselves.

And of course the testing and confirmation of communications equipment and procedures, and all of the necessary equipment that will be taken with them onto operations.

In addition, the land force will undertake detailed rehearsals of every aspect of the unit's mission. And this would be carried out and repeated and repeated until the main tasks are performed automatically.

Interestingly, rest and as much good food as we can push into them would also be on the commanders agenda. The commanders will want their soldiers to cross the line of departure as rested and as fit as possible. I can assure you that they will be tired and hungry quickly enough without starting out that way.

The support also, support elements also have their part in battle procedure. Our Chinook CH47 helicopters - like all the other aircraft - will require constant maintenance in the demanding and dusty conditions.

The commandoes and the Incident Response Regiment will rehearse and rehearse again the drills that they will have to carry out in the days ahead.

Moving to air operations. Our aircraft are now formally authorised to be called upon to undertake tasks as part of the coalition air campaign.

As a result, the aircraft and their support personnel will be concentrating their efforts on highly specific roles.

Now our FA18 Hornets are capable aircraft in defensive counter-air, offensive air support, and strike roles. So they'll be concentrating on skills such as air-to-air refuelling - which will be very important for them in these operations - and of course the techniques needed for each of those

specific skill areas.

Out C130 Hercules transport aircraft, well they'll keep on keeping on. They, they'll tirelessly transport our people and equipment around the area of operations.

And of course the P3 Orion maritime patrol and surveillance aircraft, they'll continue to provide that very important maritime patrol task out over the Persian Gulf.

Air crew and air planning personnel will be working at this time on detailed planning of the likely missions ahead, and in particular the tight coordination that's necessary in such a large coalition enterprise.

Ground crews - hard pressed as always - will be working to ensure the aircraft remain serviceable and are prepared to launch.

Now, in particular, they'll be fully engaged and closely coordinating with air planning staff to ensure that our people remain safe while in the air - and that is safe in a sense other than against enemy action.

Hard working ground crew of course will continue to struggle with the dust, and to keep the aircraft task ready.

Now I have some vision for you today, which you'll be able to take away with you, and I'd like to show you that before taking questions. We have some vision from the maritime component firstly.

Now this vision shows a boarding party boarding a dhow in the northern Persian Gulf.

Now these are ordinary sailors who probably have other duties on board the warship, and they're given special training and preparation for the duties that they undertake as part of boarding parties.

You see them searching the dhow, questioning the crew.

EXCERPT OF VISION

UNIDENTIFIED: How many crew, how many crew do you have on board the vessel?

UNIDENTIFIED 2: 12.

UNIDENTIFIED: You have 12 crew?

UNIDENTIFIED 2: [indistinct]

UNIDENTIFIED: Search of the vessel is completed. We found [indistinct] which is to be expected. Right we've secured the vessel, we found no crew with weapons or dangerous implements.

BRIGADIER HANNAN: Okay the next footage is from, of Army CH47 Chinook helicopter operations, and you'll note this is shot at night with night vision equipment. I think you've seen quite a bit of night footage over the last couple of weeks, and you'll continue to see quite a bit in the future. Night operations are obviously very important these days, and it's an area in which the ADF practices and consistently.

EXCERPT OF VISION

BRIGADIER HANNAN: Now we mentioned dust and the difficulties with the dust. I think these shots give you an idea of the difficulties. It's quite hard to maintain this technical equipment in

these dusty conditions. But as I said to you, we've had quite a bit of experience in northern Australia, and there are no great shocks for us here.

In fact in Afghanistan there was quite a bit of amazement amongst some of the other coalition forces that we had very little problems with our equipment maintaining its serviceability and of course the environment there - apart from the hills - looks pretty dusty and dry like it does back here.

Okay that completes the footage for today. There's a tape you can take with you at the end. Now there's also additional news stills footage up on the website for those who need that, and I can now take your questions.

QUESTION: Brigadier Hannan, Kieran Gilbert from Sky News. Are there any Australian troops in Iraq as we speak?

BRIGADIER HANNAN: Well as I said at the start of the briefing, now that we've started Operation Falconer* we won't be commenting on current or future operations, and the location of our troops in particular is something we'll be guarding closely at this point.

QUESTION: Brigadier, Peter O'Connor from the Associated Press. President Bush's ultimatum expires at midday today. If the orders come through are all Australian combat forces ready to go immediately?

BRIGADIER HANNAN: Yes.

QUESTION: Michelle Grattan, The Age. There's been discussion about the, the sort of extensive preparations for the media coverage of the war and the way that the countries are going to present this to the media. Can we guarantee that the picture that you will give day by day of the Australian operations will include the down-sides, the failures and mistakes - if there are any - as well as the successes, and that there's been no order that this is to be very sanitised.

BRIGADIER HANNAN: There's no advantage in us in not providing access to our troops. The only exceptions to access are those relating to close operational security, and of course host country sensitivities, about which there's been considerable written in the media recently.

The Chief of the Defence Force, General Cosgrove, said at this meeting last week - at this briefing last week - that under no circumstances would he lie to the media, and I think we can only reinforce that, that view.

We certainly…

QUESTION: The question's really not either access or lying, but will there be a full picture given of what's happened?

BRIGADIER HANNAN: Well there are 2,000 in the area of operations. I think the chances of us concealing any aspect of this operation from the media would be remote, and clearly it's in our bests interests to have the whole story told as early as possible.

QUESTION: Brigadier Richard Davis from ABC News. Can you tell us whether or not the Hornets will only use laser-guided bombs?

BRIGADIER HANNAN: Well look I'm not going to comment on the specific capabilities of our aircraft, but, beyond saying that they are fully equipped and fully capable to participate in coalition operations.

QUESTION: But wouldn't laser-guided bombs be the best way to minimise casualties?

BRIGADIER HANNAN: Well the best way to minimise casualties is to have sound rules of engagement and excellent training for our people, and that's what we have.

QUESTION: Brigadier, Catherine Philp* from Channel 10. The US military confirmed this morning that they have carried out strikes just over the border in the south of Iraq. You said that our air components are now available to the coalition. Have we been involved in those strikes?

BRIGADIER HANNAN: As I said at the start of the briefing, we won't be commenting on current operations or future operations, and that would come under that, that heading.

QUESTION: I must admit I'm just a bit concerned about the breadth of that, of that comment. I mean, I would hope that as we go along we can actually talk about some operational details of this, and if the Yanks can yes our planes are undertaking strikes, I don't see why we can't.

But just more generally, I'm curious about the commandoes. Are any of them aboard the Kanimbla, or are they all on land?

BRIGADIER HANNAN: I'm sorry, the question again was?

QUESTION: The commandoes, are they all on land? You said that they were, that they were training with the Incident Response Regiment. There was some suggestion, I'd heard, that there may be commandoes on the Kanimbla as well.

BRIGADIER HANNAN: Yeah, well as I said, we wouldn't be commenting on the specific location of any of our troops, but I'll take you back to some of our previous briefings and to the roles and tasks of those particular troops which have been clearly spelt out by us. Their task is a response task. They're there to support the SAS - should that be necessary - to recover downed pilots and to undertake the kind of protection tasks that would be necessary for the Incident Response Regiment should they be called upon to deal with the weapons of mass destruction.

Now, you can draw for yourself the conclusions about how they would be operating to carry out those tasks.

QUESTION: That's their tasking full stop?

BRIGADIER HANNAN: Those are their, those are their taskings as we've specified them, yeah.

QUESTION: Brigadier, Gerard Frawley* from Australian Aviation magazine. I'm just wondering, with the tasking of the Hornets - obviously you won't say whether they'll be used for air-to-air or air-to-ground missions - but will that be an Australian decision, or will they be tasked by American commanders?

BRIGADIER HANNAN: They'll be part of the general air task order. That is they'll be part of the overall air campaign. Now having said that, every part of the air campaign is monitored and Australians officers are part of that process of tasking, and tasks which do not accord with our government or with our ADF policy, those tasks are rejected and not flown by Australian aircraft.

QUESTION: Right. So they're available to do both air-to-air and air-to-ground missions?

BRIGADIER HANNAN: They are available for both air-to-air, the ground support and of course ground strike.

QUESTION: Just a quick follow up, during the week in the media there were some reports of Australian tankers being used. I imagine that was just a mistake?

BRIGADIER HANNAN: Yes it was, yeah.

QUESTION: Just, there have also been, I mean I know it's the footage of the dhow boarding, there's also been some reports this morning of a dhow being fired upon in the Gulf by Kuwaitis and saying that it was laying mines. Have we got any awareness of that at all, and is that an action which involved any of our naval people?

BRIGADIER HANNAN: Look I haven't seen the reports - that particular report. There was an incident a few days ago where a dhow that was moving out of Iraqi waters was fired on by a third country, and there was, one of the crew was wounded. An Australian warship that was in the area then came to the assistance, and a medical officer when on board the dhow to provide medical assistance to the wounded individual.

I understand that the sailor, the wounded sailor, died subsequently, and that dhow was then moved off as part of the normal process.

Now that's about the extent of the involvement that I'm aware of, and certainly I've not heard any mention of mine laying.

QUESTION: Peter O'Connor from the Associated Press. There have been a lot of reports that a lot of people are already beginning to leave Baghdad. Is the Australian Defence Force able to confirm that, and will Australian forces or can Australian forces be caught up in any humanitarian operations that might happen during the actual war in terms of refugees, people fleeing?

BRIGADIER HANNAN: I, obviously war's quite confusing circumstances, and the Australians can get caught up in all sorts of things. But let me be quite clear about this. All of the forces we've sent there are quite specialised in their, in the nature of their duties, and they've been sent there to do quite specialised tasks and those are the tasks that they'll do.

Now while it's impossible to predict what the turn of events might be in operations, that would be an extraordinarily unlikely scenario. So they're there with their specific roles and tasks, and that's what we, that's what we want them to do, and that's what they'll be doing.

QUESTION: Are you able to confirm that there are already people fleeing?

BRIGADIER HANNAN: No I'm not able to give you that. I think the open source reporting that's there now is probably our best sense for the feel on the ground.

QUESTION: Catherine Philp from Channel 10. I just wanted to check, is our air component the only component currently available to the coalition, at the moment, in an operational sense?

BRIGADIER HANNAN: No, the whole of our force, deployed force is available for operations now.

QUESTION: Okay, and are our SAS involved in recognisance operations? Is that what they're trained for and is that one of their roles?

BRIGADIER HANNAN: That is the role that they're there for, for their specialised recognisance role. Their task is to go out into areas, otherwise unoccupied by our forces, and to seek out and report on installations, enemy.

QUESTION: And it would be normal for recognisance operations to happen before any strikes for example?

BRIGADIER HANNAN: To have?

QUESTION: Recognisance operations to be one of the first activities that happen before strikes?

BRIGADIER HANNAN: Yeah well it depends on the nature of the operations and how it's conducted. You know I think you just need to understand there's a difference between battlefield recognisance - that is the recognisance that travels in front of an advancing force - and deep

recognisance - which is the sort of thing we're talking about with our special forces.

Now battlefield recognisance is carried out by troops such as cavalry troops, who have fast moving, light armoured vehicles and similar forces, and they're the people that would be moving in front of an advance and providing detailed information about enemy dispositions back. And

they're quite happy to fight for information.

The sort of work that our special forces do is deep recognisance. That's deep behind enemy lines, back in the areas where the main body of the force - the advancing forces - is not working.

So their great risk is the fact that they're quite isolated, they're a long way from support, and so we need very high levels of skill and training for them to carry out their task.

QUESTION: Just, can I just ask you a bit about the policy of not commenting on current or future operations. Does that mean that if, say the F18s bomb an Iraqi city that you won't even make any statements or verify that that's happened?

BRIGADIER HANNAN: Once it becomes past operations, then we may or may not comment on it, depending on the effect it might have in determining what we're doing now or in the future.

QUESTION: But how will we know what our forces are doing there if you're not going to comment?

BRIGADIER HANNAN: As I said, once operations became past operations…

QUESTION: Yeah.

BRIGADIER HANNAN: … then they're available for comment.

QUESTION: Okay, you said future though, future operations as well, yeah, okay.

QUESTION: What's the timeframe [indistinct]?

BRIGADIER HANNAN: When reporting on it will have no effect on current or future operations.

PRESENTER: Thanks very much ladies and gentlemen.

* * End * *