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Described by Joint Task Force Commander, Air Commodore Richard Owen as “one of the most important annual activities of the Australian Defence Force”, Indo-Pacific Endeavour (IPE19) is part of Australia’s ongoing efforts to promote security and stability in the region through bilateral and multilateral engagement, training, and capacity building. The 11-week deployment aims to further enhance military cooperation with some of Australia’s key regional partners Brunei, Cambodia, the Federated States of Micronesia, India, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, the Philippines, the Republic of Korea, Singapore, Thailand and Timor-Leste. Through collaborating whilst on exercise, Indo-Pacific Endeavour demonstrates Australia’s ability to support humanitarian assistance and disaster responses throughout the region in coordination with Australia’s foreign policy agenda in our neighbourhood.
In its third iteration, Indo-Pacific Endeavour 2019 involved elements of the Royal Australian Navy (RAN), the Australian Army and the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) collaborating with regional counterparts to undertake a number of activities ranging from seminars, table-top exercises, Passage of Lines Exercises at Sea (PASSEX) and Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Response (HADR) coordination activities, covering sixteen thousand nautical miles.
Academic scholars from the Strategic and Defence Studies Centre were invited by the Sea Power Centre to participate as civilians. Professor John Blaxland, Dr Aurore Chow, Dr Garth Pratten and Ms Imogen Mathew covered a variety of ports – from Port Klang in Malaysia to Jakarta in Indonesia – and were given the unique opportunity to participate in daily life on board a variety of RAN vessels.
The flagship vessel HMAS Canberra was joined by HMA Ships Newcastle and Success throughout this leg of the journey and included broader interactions with disaster assistance planning, community outreach, defence industry exhibitions and receptions for regional VIPs and communities.
Having a hands-on experience allowed Professor John Blaxland to critically reflect on the importance of the class of naval vessels which promote engagement with our own neighbourhood. In a reflection for the Australian Naval Institute, Professor Blaxland highlights that the commissioning of ships like HMAS Canberra ‘opened the way for a more robust engagement strategy with neighbouring countries that coincided with a re-orientation of the ADF from the Middle East back towards its own neighbourhood in the Indo-Pacific, notably in the South Pacific, Southeast Asia and beyond’.
Commissioned in 2014, the Canberra Class Amphibious Assault Ships were subjected to criticism as a waste of money. However, Professor Blaxland has highlighted the capability of vessels like HMAS Canberra to engage in rapid humanitarian aid and disaster response has been a critical catalyst in building ties and helping to foster increased security and stability with neighbours. This also happens to coincide with the Australian governments renewed engagement with the Indo-Pacific.
Dr Aurore Chow on the flight deck of HMAS Canberra
Similarly, Dr Aurore Chow found that the trip allowed her to meet naval officers of different ranks and hear their experiences with training and education. This will inform her teaching as a Lecturer in Professional Military Education at the Australian War College.
Dr Chow found that being on the HMAS Canberra allowed the visiting civilians to truly taste daily life on a naval ship. “Sea riding with Info-Pacific Endeavour gave us front-row seats to watch Australia engage with the region. It was a privilege to see how a joint operations team of personnel from different services, government departments and even countries work together to achieve a mission.”
Indo-Pacific Endeavour concluded at the end of May 2019 and all four SDSC staff members are looking forward to integrating knowledge gained from the experience into their own research.