Exercise Talisman Sabre 2023 saw US Army Abrams tanks deploy to Australia for the very first time.

Updated 21 December 2023

Exercise Talisman Sabre 2023

Exercise Talisman Sabres can always be a lottery for defence photojournalists, because access can be restrictive depending upon who the public affairs representatives are. Fortunately, 2023 was one of the better ones. Different to previous years, when most of the ground action has been concentrated on the Shoalwater Bay Training Area near Rockhampton, this year the action was mostly centred upon Townsville but with other events occurring up and down the coast as far south as Gladstone.

Talisman Sabre 2023 took place from 21 July till 4 August. In addition to the two key partners of Australia and the USA, forces from Canada, Fiji, France, Germany, Indonesia, Japan, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, South Korea, Tonga and the UK all participated. Total troop numbers surpassed 30,000, making it the largest ever Talisman Sabre in the series. The land component exercising near Townsville involved some 10,000 soldiers, and officials claimed it was the largest Australian military force to gather since the Western Front in 1918.

The 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) of the US Marine Corps performed amphibious operations during the exercise. Of interest, the 31st MEU had almost totally traded in its HMMWVs for the new JLTV, while no AAV7 amphibious assault vehicles took part. This was because the USMC suspended use of the AAV7 following a tragic accident in California that killed nine in 2021. Talisman Sabre was not without its own incidents, for an Australian Army MRH90 helicopter crashed with the loss of four lives. Australia has not flown its MRH90s since then, grounding the fleet as it awaits replacement UH-60M Black Hawks to arrive from the USA.