Big Defence Force exercise in action

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More than 2000 Defence Force personnel from nine different nations have descended on South Canterbury and the Waitaki District.

Don’t worry – it’s not an invasion. It’s exercise Southern Katipo, which kicked off on Monday and runs for the month of November.

Southern Katipo chief of staff Commander Peter Kempster said exercise Southern Katipo is the largest New Zealand Defence Force exercise for 2013.

Focused around the fictional country, Mainlandia, the exercise focuses on the “increased violence” occurring between Mainlandia’s two people, the Bekarans and the Alpirians.

The ruling political party in Mainlandia has lost power in the latest election, but the country’s prime minister will not relinquish his position and a military group has taken up arms against him and his supporters.

New Zealand’s defence forces have been told to take the lead and a coalition of other nations – Australia, Canada, France, Malaysia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Singapore, Tonga, the United States and the United Kingdom – have also been called in to offer assistance.

“New Zealand is leading troops and equipment and air to restore law and order,” he said.

“The idea is, it’s a bit like a treasure hunt, they go from place to place getting information and intelligence.

“Starting in Waimate, they will head up the Waitaki Valley and go to the various incidents”

Southern Katipo is the largest ever international exercise, in terms of the number of nations involved, to be held in New Zealand, Commander Kempster said.

“We’re expecting 2500 people to be involved,” he said.

“About 2000 – 2200 will be on the ground in the Timaru, Waimate and Tekapo area.”

Southern Katipo, a series held every two years, is the first chance for the Air Force, Army and Navy to come together as a complete team and work towards being effective wherever they go, he said.

It would help the NZDF prepare for a variety of contingencies and ensure that New Zealand can play its part with other nations to assist our Pacific neighbours, should the need arise. The South Canterbury/Waitaki area was chosen as a location because of the natural beauty of the area and the cooperative nature of the communities.

“The people are so amazing, and we wanted our international guests to appreciate how beautiful New Zealand is,” he said. “It’s got everything we need – Timaru has a really good port, infrastructure and Tekapo has the training areas up the Valley if we need them. It’s an area where the people are very supportive of the Defence Force.”

Southern Katipo has been in the works for about six months, and the exercise unofficially started a few weeks ago with initial training with those running it.

Initial training has been focused around the largest mobile headquarters built in New Zealand for 25 years as teams of intelligence, operations, movements and logistics people build computers, unravel cables and make preparations for the joint exercise and wait for the international partners to arrive.

Described as the most advanced HQ in terms of systems the Defence Force has and has ever deployed, this HQ will be the nerve centre for the exercise and is where all the action starts. There is a lot of work ahead and the experts are on the ground getting it done.

However, the real action officially started on Monday, with navy ships setting sail from Wellington.

Without even trying, the public will be involved in the exercise, Commander Kempster said.

“People will see lots of aircraft over head in Timaru and Waimate and fleets of equipment on the roads – we’re hoping not to cause any inconvenience,” he said.

There’s not going to be too much action to see, in terms of civil war-type reenactments, but there may be some skirmishes – including one with the “Waimate Taliban”.

Some of the world’s best equipment will be used in the Exercise, including the NH-90 and A-109 helicopters and KC-130s and C-17s from America.

All nations, apart from Australian personell which will arrive on November 11, are already in New Zealand.

“It’s quite exciting from the point of view that we’ve put all of this work into it,” he said.

By Rebecca Ryan