Military expect to protect hydro assets

Australian personnel mount a foot patrol from the drop zone through Waimate, to their objective...
Australian personnel mount a foot patrol from the drop zone through Waimate, to their objective as part of Exercise Southern Katipo 2013. Photo by NZDF.
Armed forces from 10 nations involved in New Zealand's biggest ever multinational military exercise are this week expected to start ''protecting'' power stations on the Waitaki hydro lakes.

Exercise Southern Katipo 2013 (SK13), which would include 1500 armed-forces personnel from New Zealand and another 600 troops from Australia, Canada, France, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, Singapore, Tonga, the United Kingdom and the United States, began on November 4, based mainly around Timaru, but SK13 communications manager Squadron Leader Lyn Coromandel said about 50 troops arrived in Waimate ''by aerial insertion'' on Sunday.

He said further forces were deployed to the area yesterday to set up a forward operating area.

''They are just basically setting up base in the Waimate region and they are going to be carrying out stability and security operations in the region for the next few days, probably until the end of the exercise.''

Sqn Ldr Coromandel said forces would probably be sent to ''protect'' the Aviemore and Benmore hydro dams and power stations.

''In real life one would be looking to secure the safety of those facilities against any insurgent attacks, and that's probably the area that they are going to be concentrating their activities.''

The tri-service exercise involves a training scenario set in the fictional southwest Pacific country of ''Mainlandia'', which was experiencing ethnic tensions between rival provinces of ''Alpiria'' and ''Bekara'', and required intervention from the ''League of Pacific Nations'' to restore law and order.

Colonel John Howard, in command of all deployed forces, said about 2000 troops were now deployed in an operational zone that extended from Timaru to the Tekapo basin, southwards to Waimate and the Waitaki River, north of Temuka, and 12 nautical miles offshore.

Col Howard said the exercise, expected to run until November 29, had so far allowed him to use ''a range of capabilities'', including helicopters and fixed-wing assets.

''South Canterbury offers for us a perfect environment for the conduct of amphibious lodgements, which is ship-to-shore operations. The terrain itself offers some really good advantages from the ocean edge right the way through to the mountains, so we can practise our troops in a range of environmental skills.''

He said the exercise had already provided valuable lessons for the NZDF.

''We have spent the last 12 years fundamentally engaged in operations offshore, in a range of environments and as a result of that we have been unable to practise those skills that we need to meet a range of government contingencies.

''So we are learning lessons from the highest operational strategic level right down to the lowest soldier on the corner, who is having to think very differently than he has before.''

Minister of Defence Dr Jonathan Coleman said SK13, which would also involve personnel from NZ Customs Service, Immigration NZ, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Ministry for Primary Industries, the Police, and New Zealand Transport Agency, was a ''significant exercise for the NZDF''.

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