Melissa Mackay – Battling heatwave conditions and pandemic precautions, about 300 Australian and Indonesian soldiers are conducting their largest ever annual joint combat training across defence bases in the Top End.
Exercise Wirra Jaya is an annual three-week training exercise between the two militaries, which takes place in either Australia or Indonesia.
This year, for the eighth iteration, about 200 members of the Indonesian Army, or Tentara Nasional Indonesia Angkatan Darat, spent two weeks in the defence-contracted Bladin Village quarantine centre outside Darwin in order to take part.
"It's very different from last year, where we did it in a virtual environment due to Covid-19," 5RAR Commanding Officer Major Gregory Sargeant said.
"The training we've been focussing on is predominantly motorised training with our Bushmaster Protected Mobility Vehicles (an armoured four-wheel drive) but also with urban operations, looking at very elementary levels of combat shooting."
The training is designed to give units in the two countries' armed forces practice operating together, in a similar way to the larger training sessions held annually with the visiting US Marines.
Both militaries' leaders said building relationships between the Australian and Indonesian personnel was a key focus.
"It's almost more important than the training itself, being able to understand and trust our neighbours," Major Sargeant said.
"In the lead up to [the exercise] we had all soldiers practising their Bahasa [Indonesian language] ... to varying levels of success."
Indonesian and Australian soldiers credited social sport for creating connections across the language barrier.
"Last week we played soccer with the First Brigade team and the Indonesian Army won 2-1," Indonesian Army Contingent Commander, Lieutenant Colonel Anggun Wuriyanto said.
"[The Australian Army] are very kind and are helping us a lot, [like they would] for their own family."
Exercise Wirra Jaya sees Indonesian personnel training with Australian Bushmaster vehicles, 15 of which Defence Minister Peter Dutton has said will be gifted to the country to support peacekeeping operations.
Major Sargeant said the training would also include urban operations exercises, where defence personnel practise manoeuvring and firing in mock villages or houses.
After the death of a young Australian soldier in a similar exercise in the Top End four years ago, the battalion is still yet to resume the use of live ammunition for urban operations training, with blanks or "dry runs" used in Exercise Wirra Jaya.
"It's very important that we build a foundational level built on trust before we progress to any serious training... we won't progress to live training," Major Sargeant said.
The commanding officer also said the soldiers were subjected to a "stringent heat policy" due to Darwin's build-up conditions and that personnel were not required to wear heavy body armour or helmets throughout most of the exercise.
Exercise Wirra Jaya will finish with a closing ceremony at Darwin's Robertson Barracks on November 3.