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Jason Challis: Realistic exercises ‘essential’ for soldiers

Soldiers training at Mount Bundey.
Soldiers training at Mount Bundey. News Corp Australia

A DIGGER'S death is always tragic but troops could not properly prepare for combat without danger to simulate the chaos of a battlefield, the head of an independent defence watchdog says.

Private Jason Challis was killed during a live-fire exercise at Mount Bundey Military Training Area, where troops hone their skills with small arms, "light weapons", tanks and artillery in dusty scrub and floodplains, about 115km south east of Darwin.

Australia Defence Association boss Neil James said soldiers tried to balance realistic training - which reduced the risk of combat casualties - with safety.

"It's always a sad day when you lose a Digger but it's an even sadder day if you lose many because they're not prepared for combat. In live-fire training you get the sound and shock of (gunfire) without people being on the receiving end.

"Occasionally things go wrong. You can have perfect safety in an office but on a simulated battlefield, with the best will in the world you can't have perfect safety." Mr James said on average the Australian Defence Force had an accidental live-fire death about once in 20 years.

NT Police guarded the crime scene at the 117,300ha former cattle station overnight on Wednesday before investigators returned - as defence vehicles came and went through an entry point manned by a soldier off Jim Jim Rd - Thursday morning.

Signs warn of the dangers within the facility, one stating: "Military target area. Do not touch anything. It may explode and kill you."

Troops were conducting Exercise Predators Walk at the range when Pte Challis died.

In 2015, Predator's Walk saw about 1800 Australian troops and US Marines on the ground. Aussie soldiers lived, worked and slept out bush alongside the Marines, surviving on ration packs.

Army combat brigade training exercises were "suspended to review risk assessment processes and training safety management" after Mr Challis' death. It is unknown if the suspension will impact Exercise Talisman Sabre - a training operation with about 30,000 Australian and US troops - scheduled to start in late June.

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