Sleepy air base awakens

In the remote northern corner of Western Australia sits RAAF Base Curtin, a contingency air base is maintained with a staff of barely 10 people for most of the year.

CAPTIONA Royal Australian Air Force F-35A Lightning ll takes off from RAAF Base Curtin, Western Australia, during Exercise Talisman Sabre 2023. Story by Flying Officer Connor Bellhouse. Photos by Leading Aircraftwoman Annika Smit.

For the past eight weeks, nearly 500 aviators from Combat Support Group (CSG) have pulled a range of capabilities together to activate the base as part of Exercise Talisman Sabre.

The commander on the ground, Wing Commander Lauren Flaherty, said the opportunity on Talisman Sabre for CSG to utilise and deploy its full range of capabilities was an exciting one.

“It’s taken a significant period of time and effort across all of CSG to activate RAAF Base Curtin to this level,” Wing Commander Flaherty said.

“It’s involved a very large convoy from combat support elements from essentially all around Australia, deploying equipment and personnel here to project air power.”

The exercise scenario facing the CSG team at Curtin challenges their ability to sustain high-tempo air operations, while also defending the air field from simulated attacks. Those attacks range from ground assaults to missile threats.

“We have both a real-time support function to enable the F-35A aircraft deployed here to fly, but at the same time we are working under a simulated high-threat environment,” Wing Commander Flaherty said.

CAPTIONA sunrise lineup of Royal Australian Air Force F-35A Lightning ll aircraft at RAAF Base Curtin, Western Australia, during Exercise Talisman Sabre 2023.

“That high-threat environment tests our responses and actions to a number of different ground-based attacks and missile threats.”

On the ground responding to the scenarios are a range of capabilities from health, security forces and firefighting to air field engineering and an air traffic control team.

“Each team has a number of different actions on depending on which function they are working for, but it essentially relies on an immediate response for them to move to a secure or safe location so they can take cover from the threat but also continue to operate the air base.”

The training realism for the team included details as specific as setting off controlled in-ground explosions to simulate the thudding impact of missile fire. The command team had to focus efforts on accurate reporting of impacts to ensure the appropriate time to exit defensive positions.

“For Combat Support Group, Talisman Sabre is really about exercising our training objects, opening an air base, operating that air base and projecting air power under all conditions,”  Wing Commander Flaherty said.

“Across the exercise, we’ve successfully drawn together individual skills and unit capabilities to work together as one team.”


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