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East Timor Landing - Backgrounder

East Timor landing

Backgrounder

The largest Australian-led amphibious operation since 1945; the largest ANZAC naval task force ever assembled for a peace enforcement operation and the first active service for the Anzac frigates. Today's joint-Service operation to land peace enforcement troops into East Timor will stand as an historic day in the maritime history of both Australia and New Zealand.

It was Admiral Jackie Fisher who said, before WWI, that 'the Army is a bullet to be fired ashore by the Navy' but the poorly planned amphibious operation at Gallipoli made amphibious operations unpopular to defence planners in the British Commonwealth.

In World War Two, the western allies had to relearn the art of amphibious warfare, and during 1943-45 New Zealand's 3rd Division in the Solomons and Australia's Army in Borneo proved that our two Pacific nations could operate amphibiously too.

In the era of the Cold War, the US Marines were the masters of such operations, while in the initial period of UN peacekeeping, amphibious operations seemed an irrelevance.

But in East Timor today we are seeing a major amphibious operation, including a large air landing component, take place but this time with British and US forces only in a supporting role. The planning and the execution of the operation is primarily Australian, but the multi-national naval task force that makes this operation possible owes much to the New Zealand contribution.

That such a complex operation is necessary, is due to the changing nature of peacekeeping. Instead of truce monitors patrolling a static line, peace enforcement operations are tough, and demand an involvement of all three services.

In today's operation, the well equipped naval task force achieves two important military objectives: * the fleet of missile armed frigates and destroyers ensured that any options to use submarines, fast attack craft or air forces against the UN mandated force were immediately deterred. * And any thought of using regular military forces on the ground is also negated by the availability of naval gunfire on call should our troops require fire support ashore.

This is not a 'Saving Private Ryan' type of assault straight into sophisticated defences - indeed if all goes well the actual landing may seem anti-climactic. But ever since the task force assembled in Darwin, initially in case of a sea evacuation, the presence of the warships has given the Australian planners an array of options, while signalling to the anti-independence supporters that any option of using air, sea or submarine threats would be swiftly and powerfully countered.

HMNZ Ships Te Kaha and Endeavour are making a valid and relevant contribution to the multi-national force. Te Kaha brings the potential of her various weapons systems as direct protection for the troop ships. Even if they don't fire a shot, the actual deterrent effect of Te Kaha's weapons is evident.

Yet equally importantly, Te Kaha's comprehensive communications system and its surveillance radars and electronic systems will be in use.

In the days to come it is that ability of the warships to isolate East Timor from unwanted intervention and to sustain their surveillance of the waters and coasts, which will directly assist the troops ashore.

Meanwhile Endeavour has joined the task force and together with HMAS Success the two fleet replenishment ships will sustain the combat ships off Dili. Success will also become a floating support base for the RNZAF Iroquois and Australian Army helicopters being sent into East Timor, since her flight deck is big enough for those aircraft.

The huge quantities of marine diesel and helicopter fuel rushed by Endeavour to the task force are already being put to use. Yesterday, Endeavour conducted a three and a half hour 'vertrep' with Te Kaha, to transfer 14 pallet loads of stores using Te Kaha's Seasprite helicopter - noisy tough and demanding work where safety is paramount - and all in the 36 degree temperatures the task force has been enduring.

Today's operation is history in the making. A distinctively ANZAC event, the landing on East Timor illustrates how the nature of peace operations has changed, while also reminding us that the great powers will not always take the lead.

ENDS

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