Australian and French warships exercise off Darwin

When more than 25,000 tonnes of steel in the shape of three warships exercise in close proximity to each other, it is an impressive example of each crew’s warfighting and seamanship skills. That display occurred when HMAS Newcastle trained with French Navy Ships Dixmude and Surcouf off the coast of Darwin recently.

Newcastle practiced gunnery serials, officer of the watch maneuvers, communication exercises and replenishment at sea approaches with the two French vessels over a four-day period.

Commanding Officer of Newcastle, Commander Anita Sellick, said exercises and engagements with foreign navies are an important part of the RAN’s work at sea.

“The interoperability through this passage demonstrated an ongoing commitment to Australian and French relations in the region. Working with our regional partners is especially important as it builds a deeper understanding of our differences and our collective strength,” Commander Sellick said.

Dixmude and Surcouf were in Australia as part of Jean d’Arc 2018, a Task Group deployed by the French Navy to the Asia-Pacific each year to increase cooperation between France and its allies in the region.

Dixmude is the second largest ship in the French Navy’s fleet. The Amphibious Assault Ship can accommodate 900 crew and up to 35 helicopters. It also boasts landing craft and a fully equipped hospital onboard. Several officers and sailors from Newcastle were afforded the opportunity to visit Dixmude during the exercises.

Operations Officer Lieutenant Gemma Casserly said she was impressed by the professionalism of the ship and her crew.

“Dixmude is a state-of-the-art ship. The crew also went out of their way to show the Australian contingent how the French operate. It was a great opportunity to learn more about the Jean d’Arc Task Group,” Lieutenant Casserly said.

After the exercises, the ships took time off in Darwin and competed in friendly games of soccer and touch rugby, followed by a barbeque hosted by Newcastle.

Commander Sellick said the French “were very gracious with their hospitality in Dixmude, and the sports day hosted by the Australian Navy was a way of expressing our appreciation”.

Before meeting the French warships, Newcastle had been in Western Australia to assist the frigate HMAS Ballarat and submarine HMAS Sheean with their Unit Readiness Workups – a routine assessment period undertaken at sea to demonstrate the required level of operational capability.

Newcastle has now sailed to the east coast of Australia to participate in Exercise SEA RAIDER, which seeks to train Navy’s amphibious capabilities.