The exercise is a French-led rehearsal for a humanitarian assistance and disaster relief (HA/DR) deployment, leading into a non-combatant evacuation operation (NEO).
The exercise runs for two weeks and began on 15 October. It involves 10 countries working within a Combined Joint Task Force (CJTF) made up of land, maritime and air components.
The deployment is the first of its kind for Gurkha troops based in Brunei and the first time the UK has taken part in Exercise Southern Cross in New Caledonia.
The threat of a tsunami in the Pacific is all too real and all the countries involved are keenly aware that they must learn how to co-operate at all levels if they’re to successfully provide support in the aftermath of a disaster.
The exercise is enabling troops to share tactics, techniques and standard operating procedures with a wide range of countries including the USA, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, France, Tonga, Japan and Papua New Guinea. This relationship-building in the Pacific is not only important to BFB but also for the UK.
As Brigadier Taylor RM, Defence Attache for Australia, on his visit to Southern Cross emphasised:
Exercises such as these bring a strategic return for a tactical investment; they are low-key and non-contentious and allow us to build relationships in the Pacific which will be critical in the future as the socio-political and economic focus of the world shifts to the region.
For the Gurkhas on the ground, who served in Afghanistan less than a year ago, the change to HA/DR operations was a challenge that they have embraced. As part of a combined Air Assault Company with French paratroopers and US Marines, they were the first platoon to deploy onto the ground and were used as a recce force for the Land Component Command (LCC).
Colonel de Marsac, Commander of the LCC, praised the Gurkhas for the speed at which they embraced French tactical doctrine and for:
the ease with which they adapted their posture and tempo between the HA/DR and the more kinetic NEO.
Three officers and one senior non-commissioned officer took up positions in the J4 (Logistics/Medical) and J3 (Current Operations) cells within the CJTF. It was beneficial for the Staff Officers to be thrown into teams with members from a wide spread of countries, some aware of NATO conventions and others learning about them for the first time.
There is an obvious desire by all the nations to share experiences from recent operational deployments to build relationships which will be important in the future.
Colonel Barrafite, the Chief Planning Officer for the exercise, backed the UK forces’ involvement and hoped that more troops could be involved next time, an enthusiasm shared by UK forces.
Exercise Southern Cross is a biannual event which began in 2002. The sixth exercise is already being planned for 2014.