26 November 2018
About 150 New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) troops have just completed a two-week exercise with 4400 United States Army soldiers in Louisiana.
The coalition force took part in Exercise Lightning Matawai at the Joint Readiness Training Centre (JRTC) in Fort Polk.
The exercise ranged from population protection to land combat operations, and involved an array of combat planes, helicopters and artillery, said Major Craig Thorne, the Officer Commanding of Alpha Company of 2nd/1st Battalion Royal New Zealand Infantry Regiment.
“Among the range of skills tested was our readiness to deploy quickly from New Zealand to Hawaii and then onwards to Fort Polk in the United States,” Major Thorne said.
“We tested our ability to operate with a coalition partner, as well as our skills in conducting offensive and defensive manoeuvres – from undertaking combat operations during battalion attacks to dealing with internally displaced civilians and media.”
The training area consisted of open terrain and multiple constructed towns, simulating the complex environments that soldiers must be capable of operating in.
To help assessment, video cameras were installed throughout the training area, mobile video crews filmed crucial phases of the exercise and battle-tracking software was used to enable real-time feeds of coalition and hostile forces.
Operating as part of a US Army battalion, the NZDF troops were supported by a range of aircraft including B-52 bombers, F-22 stealth tactical fighter aircraft, unmanned aerial surveillance vehicles, AH-64 Apache attack helicopters and CH-47 Chinook transport helicopters.
“Exercising as part of a fully equipped US Light Infantry brigade allows our forces to fight with a full range of capability, including large artillery forces, reconnaissance units, unmanned aerial surveillance vehicles and electronic warfare teams,” Major Thorne said.
Colonel Rian McKinstry, the Acting Land Component Commander, said the exercise was part of ongoing training to prepare NZDF troops for potential operations.
“The value of the training was in its realism. As part of the exercise, our soldiers had to integrate with a coalition partner and deal with situations and challenges that we may face in actual operations,” Colonel McKinstry said.
“It’s part of our efforts to ensure our troops are always mission-ready.”
The JRTC is one of the United States Army’s three combat training centres, which is equipped to train infantry brigade task forces to conduct joint operations. Up to 11 US Army brigades undertake training at the centre each year.