NORTHERN TERRITORY, Australia --
The sun rises over the hot, harsh outback, hundreds of miles south of Darwin. On any other day, the sight would be simply calm and quiet, but today on the notional “Bradshaw Island,” a simulated enemy target is about to meet its end in a unique demonstration of expeditionary, precision-strike operations by the United States Marine Corps and Australian Defence Force together.
The simulation, known as “Exercise Loobye,” sees a High Mobility Artillery Rocket System conduct a rapid infiltration demonstration, or “HIRAIN.” This quick and complex operation enables friendly forces to land the long range, precision strike capability on the ground and expediently destroy a threat, allowing follow-on forces to conduct landing operations.
This is the first time a HIRAIN mission has ever been executed by Marine Rotational Force – Darwin in its ten-year history, and a first HIRAIN for both MRF-D and the ADF in Bradshaw Field Training Area.
During the course of its deployment in 2021, MRF-D has progressed through a training scenario in which it battled simulated enemy forces throughout the Northern Territory.
Beginning with Exercise Crocodile Response, a notional natural disaster affected a simulated friendly nation, initiating a disaster response effort by both MRF-D, ADF , and other governmental agencies. Following that, in June, Exercise Darrandarra demonstrated embassy reinforcement and noncombatant evacuation operations in the same nation, while tensions between the friendly and enemy elements in the scenario continued to rise.
Later in the month, MRF-D participated in the execution of the trilateral Exercise Southern Jackaroo, where Australian, Japanese, and U.S. militaries cleared an enemy threat with combined fires, maneuver, and command & control.
Now, the enemy has set up defensive positions on “Bradshaw Island.” By seizing key terrain and establishing anti-access/aerial denial systems on the island, the enemy has effectively prevented allied forces from safely mobilizing, landing, and operating in the area.
“It’s important to exercise in a simulated contested littoral environment reflective of an expeditionary advance based operations campaign because it aligns with the planning guidance set forth by our Marine Corps leadership.” Capt. Owen Tucker, the MRF-D intelligence officer
“It allows us to be more capable and dynamic in our pursuits of a free and open Indo-Pacific by practicing to respond to scenarios in which we may actually find ourselves.”
After significant intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance efforts to determine the enemy’s position and capabilities, an RQ-21 Blackjack from Marine Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Squadron 3 (VMU 3) spots an anti-ship missile positon in the heart of “Bradshaw Island,” and simulcasts that feed to an Australian, partnered network, viewed in a MRF-D and ADF joint operations center. This threat poses a significant risk to an assault force embarked at sea—one that MRF-D must neutralize before any hope of an amphibious assault.
Upon finding the target, MRF-D inserts a small team from its Air Naval Gunfire Liaison Company detachment to get an in-person visual and confirm what was seen in the sUAS video feed.
“Due to the priority of this target, we need to ensure redundant methods of observation,” explains 1st Lt. Holly Sandler, the ANGLICO detachment officer-in-charge for MRF-D.
“A video feed from the RQ-21 Blackjack, reinforced by actual eyes-on, ensures that no matter what, when the time comes to strike, the combined task force operations center will be able to observe its effects and we can confirm its destruction.”
The issue remains how to neutralize the anti-ship missile. With several offensive methods at its disposal, MRF-D chooses one of its most expeditionary and intense options: HIRAIN.
The High Mobility Rocket Artillery System is well-suited to destroy surface targets from the deck of a ship. However, an anti-ship missile presents a significant risk to an amphibious force if it is within the weapon threat range.
But to land a plane and conduct a HIRAIN mission, that requires an airfield. Enter the Royal Australian Air Force.
On Royal Australian Air Force Base Darwin, a RAAF C-17 Globemaster sits ready to load a U.S. Marine HIMARS in the back of its cargo hold. When given the call to launch, it will fly the HIMARS to an airfield, which is to be secured by the MRF-D Ground Combat and Aviation Combat Elements.
“Loading and carrying other services’ or other militaries’ equipment is a well-practiced thing that we do. We are always looking at how we do it safely as number one, but on top of that, we are looking to provide the customer with what they need,” mentions Flight Lt. Thomas Breaden, the RAAF C-17 pilot from 36 Squadron.
While the C-17 is loading, a company of Marines from 1st Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment (Reinforced) loads a division of MV-22B Ospreys, ready to seize the enemy airfield and set conditions for the C-17 to land. A section of AH-1Z Vipers spins up as well, ready to escort and protect the assault force.
Photo by Cpl. Lydia Gordon
The mission commander, Col. David Banning, commanding officer of MRF-D, gives the order to launch. Exercise Loobye has officially begun.
Less than an hour after departing RAAF Base Darwin, the Vipers arrive to Nackeroo Airfield at Bradshaw Field Training Area and begin to simulate destroying targets from the enemy oppositional force; this force—a combined team of Australian soldiers and U.S. Marines—have had days to dig in defensive positions to make the MRF-D assault as realistic as possible.
In the orchestrated chaos of notional gun runs and rocket fire, the Ospreys land their company of infantry Marines, who quickly sweep up the runway and clear it of the enemy meter-by-meter.
Ultimately, the enemy is overcome by overwhelming firepower, rendering them destroyed. The infantry company sets security and notifies the mission commander, who calls in the HIRAIN.
Less than an hour after seizure of the airfield, the RAAF C-17 lands on Nackeroo. Its ramp lowers and out drives a HIMARS, ready to move to the firing position, with some targeting assistance from the aircraft.
“We directly linked up the advanced navigation system on the C-17 to the HIMARS trucks onboard. They were constantly updating their position and orienting themselves throughout the entire flight, so that once we arrived, they could go off and fire,” says Flight Lt. Breaden.
Once VMU and ANGLICO detachments confirm visual on the target, the mission commander gives the approval to fire. The HIMARS launches a single rocket in its direction; the rocket—that contains 200lbs of explosive and guided by GPS—soars over 40 kilometers above Bradshaw until it lands exactly on its mark.
Then, as quickly as it arrived, the HIMARS speeds back to the airfield to avoid detection from other enemy in the area who may have identified their position from the shot. There, they load the C-17, the ramp raises, and the C-17 prepares to takeoff.
HIRIAN complete. Mission accomplished.
Exercises like Loobye demonstrate MRF-D’s ability to conduct operations as a combined-joint force with the Australian Defence Force, execute expeditionary operations like HIRAIN, and exemplify their mutual dedication to being postured and ready to respond to a crisis or contingency in the Indo-Pacific region.