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Exercise Tropic Twilight

Disaster Response Training

Three hundred and fifty New Zealand Defence Force personnel deployed to Tuvalu as part of Exercise Tropic Twilight 2010 (TTW10), which ran from 1—17 July. Exercise Tropic Twilight is an annual tri-Service exercise to a Pacific nation that is used to rehearse and improve the ability of the Defence Force to respond to disasters within the South Pacific Region.

Arriving: An RNZAF C-130 Hercules with equipment and NZDF personnel at Funafuti International Airport, Tuvalu. (WN-10-0138-001).
An RNZAF C-130 Hercules with equipment and NZDF personnel.

“Exercise Tropic Twilight is a good opportunity for us to enhance cooperation and relationships in the Pacific. Our people take great pride in being able to give something back to our Pacific Island neighbours,” said Lieutenant Colonel Todd Hart, Senior National Officer for the Exercise.

The Exercise was also used as a means to deliver and support the NZAID South Pacific development programme by completing numerous medical, engineering and development tasks on the Island.

Also taking part in the exercise was a Puma Helicopter and support crew courtesy of the French Armed Forces in New Caledonia (Forces Armees De La Nouvelle-Caledonie—FANC).

“The Defence Force trains for a wide spectrum of operational environments, from providing humanitarian aid like we're demonstrating here in Tuvalu, right up to preparing for conventional combat situations,” said LTCOL Hart.

“We need to train across this spectrum because, while you can scale down the skill set required to conduct Humanitarian and Disaster Relief operations, it is not as easy to scale up.”

TTW10 provided an excellent opportunity to work in conjunction with other Government and Non-Government agencies alongside FANC, who also had regional responsibilities, and to exercise all three Services of the Defence Force.

Navy support

HMNZS CANTERBURY and her crew, led by Commander Jim Gilmour, provided a multi-role vessel capability and agility in Humanitarian Aid and Disaster Relief (HADR) response that we have not previously possessed. Her ability to quickly transport dozens of vehicles and thousands of tonnes of construction and HADR items to remote locations in the South Pacific is a key strength in New Zealand’s Disaster Relief response. She has already demonstrated this in previous iterations of TTW and particularly during the aftermath of the Samoan Tsunami relief operations.

The Littoral Warfare Support Group was also present, providing divers and hydrographers to assist the Exercise.

Army support

The Army elements involved in TTW10 were commanded by Major Andrew Brooks and included:

  • An Engineering team (2nd Engineering Regiment)
  • A Medical and Surgical team (2nd Health Services Battalion)
  • A communications team (1st Signals Regiment), and
  • A Logistical team (Headquarters 2nd Land Force Group and the 2nd Logistics Battalion).

Air Force support

Personnel from No. 40 Squadron, based in Whenuapai, Auckland provided the bulk of the troop lift to TTW10 and also provided a total of nine C-130 Hercules flights in and out of Tuvalu.

In addition to troop lift, the first two flights into Tuvalu provided vehicles and enough equipment to surge the establishment of the Forward Operating Base and commence the HADR tasks.

Supporting the C-130s was a Boeing 757, which provided troop lift to our staging point of Apia in Western Samoa.

The RNZAF will also supply small specialist load planning teams to the exercise in both Tuvalu and Apia.

Recent TTW exercises have seen assistance projects completed in Niue and the Cook Islands. TTW10 differs from previous iterations in that the activity was not simply focussed on the delivery of assistance, but rather sought to exercise the Defence Force’s ability to respond to a natural disaster in the South Pacific as an integral part of a Whole of Government approach to Disaster Relief in our region.

Exercise Scenario

The detailed scenario for TTW10 was based on real, recent events of tropical cyclones that have devastated islands of the Pacific. The TTW10 exercises related directly to the projects that were undertaken by the Defence Force in partnership with NZAID.

A tropical cyclone passing over the islands of Funafuti and Vaitupu and exacerbated by unusually high tides that briefly inundate the island of Funafuti, results in the islands suffering significant damage. Compounding the situation, the island of Tuvalu, which lies slightly outside the recognised cyclone belt, has been devastated by cyclones in the past, and the annual King Tides of March regularly inundate Funafuti.

Many people are injured and homeless, infrastructure is damaged, and there is significant risk of an epidemic outbreak of disease on the islands from sewerage contamination of cisterns and aquifers.

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