For the first time, the Army has fired its Patriot surface-to-air missile on the Australian continent.

Soldiers with the 38th Air Defense Artillery Brigade, 94th Army Air and Missile Defense Command, hit target drones with the missile system on Friday as the bi-annual Talisman Sabre military exercise kicked off, according to an Army statement.

More than 17,000 participants from seven nations are involved in this year’s multinational exercise, which runs from late June to mid-August.

This week and next week are the peak portions for boots hitting beaches and rounds going downrange.

The early aim of a major combined arms exercise this past weekend was to thwart simulated Chinese military ships that might get a little too close to the Australian coast for comfort.

In recent decades, Army experts and critics noted a decline in air defense priorities, especially during counterinsurgency operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, since adversaries there had little in the way of an air threat to allied forces.

Panelists at an Association of the U.S. Army conference on air and missile defense in 2019 called the Army’s capabilities at the time a “giant vulnerability,” Army Times reported.

But in the past few years the Army has revamped and re-focused its air defense efforts, as it shifts to countering China, Russia and other state actors such as Iran and North Korea.

Army Times reported in 2020 on work by 500 soldiers with the 3rd Battalion, 43rd Air Defense Artillery, who took out two low-altitude targets simultaneously at a distance of more than 50 kilometers while part of their defense system was purposefully disabled.

The exercise was also a first for the Army air defense community on the new Integrated Air and Missile Defense system and its recently fielded software. That means a gunner task force of precision fires, naval fire support, air support and air defense, all gathered for multiple barrages.

The Marines were also in the mix during this year’s Talisman Sabre, and did their own fireworks show Saturday with the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System.

Marines also sent in their helicopters, the AH-1Z Viper and UH-1Y Venom, as another Army unit delivered their own HIMARs rockets at Mount Phipps at the training area in Queensland, Australia.

The U.S., Australian and Japanese navies comfortably pounded dirt from a distance at sea with the HMAS Ballarat, USS Rafael Peralta, HMAS Parramatta and the Japanese destroyer JS Makinami, according to an Australian military statement.

Australian and U.S. cannoneers kept their 155mm howitzers cooking for good measure.

And the belle of the air ball, the F-35 Lighting II, ran multiple 25mm cannon strafing runs while also dropping bombs.

Troops from Canada, New Zealand, South Korea and the United Kingdom are also participating in the exercise, according to a Pentagon statement.

Beyond this past weekend’s fires portion, the exercise also includes amphibious landings, ground maneuvers, urban operations, air combat and maritime operations.

Talisman Sabre started in 2005 and has seen as many as 30,000 participants. The Australia-focused exercise runs on odd-numbered years.

Todd South has written about crime, courts, government and the military for multiple publications since 2004 and was named a 2014 Pulitzer finalist for a co-written project on witness intimidation. Todd is a Marine veteran of the Iraq War.

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