Over the period 16 June 2017 – 04 August 2017 the 1st Military Police Battalion (1 MP Bn) raised, established and led EX TALISMAN SABRE 17’s (EX TS17) Combined Force Protection Company (FPC). The company was supported by joint and interagency partners for the provision of force protection of up to 30,000 soldiers, sailors, airmen, airwomen and marines participating in EX TS17. This has had its challenges, not least of which were communications, physical security, an expansive area of operations and a live, albeit peaceful, threat.
At its height, the FPC had 181 officers and soldiers from: 1 MP Bn; RAAF Intelligence; 2/14th Light Horse Regiment (Queensland Mounted Infantry); 6th Bn, Royal Australian Regiment; 8/9th Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment; 728th Military Police Bn, 8th Military Police Brigade (US), and a domestic policing unit. Also supporting the FPC was the Force Protection Group, which consisted of RAAF police, Queensland Police Service, Defence Security and Vetting Service, Australian Federal Police and the Attorney General’s Department.
Over the duration of the activity, the FPC undertook a variety of tasks that, despite their application to the security and policing environment, may be considered more akin to combat related tasks. This included intelligence collection against information requirements defined in the planning phase, reconnaissance of key routes and locations, key point surveillance, key point security and overt patrolling programs.
Macro level outcomes determined that the overall activity was a success, achieving the desired endstate, particularly in terms of the following:
Force design. This was largely achieved through the allocation of appropriate resources and deliberate planning activities in the lead-up to execution. The direction by HQ FORCOMD to assign non 1 MP Bn troops to support the FPC, primarily from the reset combat brigade (7 Brigade), was extremely effective and achieved the desired effects. The key lesson drawn from this is that when afforded the appropriate resources, a security and policing effect can be generated with positive and tangible outcomes, effectively reducing risk.
Combined, joint and inter-agency police and intelligence engagement. This was highly successful and largely achieved through the force protection liaison network and command and control arrangements. This is a key sustain from the activity and nests well with the 1 MP Bn’s work to strengthen interagency engagement throughout 2017.
Successful shaping operations. Shaping was achieved through overt reconnaissance patrols, physical security at key points and regular patrolling programs initiated from 16 Jun 17. The second order effect was the increased situational awareness and understanding of the battlespace, including atmospherics throughout the area of responsibility. The key lesson drawn from this outcome is that military police have constant engagement with the local population and the execution of these tasks as part of the FPC enabled military police training to be assessed against 1 MP Bn’s modernisation concepts.
Disruption of threat groups. Whilst there is no tangible evidence to suggest that the FPC itself had an effect on threat groups, particularly issue motivated groups (IMG), the fact that there were no arrests of IMG activists on EX TS17, in contrast to empirical data from 2005 – 2015, it is assessed that force protection as a whole (including the Force Protection Group) executed a highly successful security operation. The key lesson drawn from this supports the Royal Australian Corps of Military Police Force Modernisation Review assertion that Army’s future force requires a police capability that can be applied towards friendly forces as well as threat forces and criminals affecting the local population.
Protection of ADF reputation. The FPC responded to 78 incidents over the duration of EX TS17 across the force protection area of responsibility, ranging from enquiries through to major incidents. Where a force protection response was required, it was usually within 60 minutes of notification. This achieved the decisive event of ‘protect ADF reputation through incident response and timely reporting’ through incident response and incident scene management when required. The key lesson drawn from this is the necessity for accurate, timely reporting and battlefield commentary from force protection and military police assets, particularly when cuing supporting force elements such as a quick reaction force or civilian police and emergency services. This was achieved with varying degrees of success (and failure) particularly in light of the limited communications across such a large area of responsibility.
Despite some of the challenges faced by the FPC, the execution of live tasking for Military Police and supporting elements provided a unique opportunity to test concepts, develop efficiencies and test procedures, work with interagency partners and work closely with other units to support a large scale multinational exercise. With such coverage at the strategic level, the protection of Australian Defence Force (ADF) reputation was paramount, and the FPC played its part in ensuring that EX TS17 desired outcomes were met through the delivery of policing and security effects, enabling the ADF to conduct operations without undue risk to mission, personnel, reputation, equipment or resources.
About the author:
Jason Urquart is currently posted as the Officer Commanding (OC) Delta Company, 1st Military Police Battalion. He participated in Exercise Talisman Sabre as the OC Combined Force Protection Company. He has deployed to the Sinai Egypt with the Multi-national Force and Observers.