More than 2,500 regular and reserve soldiers from 7th Infantry Brigade (the Desert Rats) are currently deployed on a six-week training exercise on Salisbury Plain.
Exercise Wessex Storm is one of the biggest exercises of its kind in a decade and is designed to test the soldiers on the skills needed to live and fight for long periods of time under harsh conditions.
Later this year, the Desert Rats will deploy on operations in Mali, Afghanistan and Poland. This Exercise is a key part of ensuring their readiness for those operations.
Brigadier Tom Bewick, Commander of 7th Infantry Brigade, explained: "This exercise is about training four British Army battlegroups for war-fighting operations as part of the Light Brigade. The exercise also forms a critical part of the preparations for deployments to Mali, Afghanistan and Poland later this year.
“It is about Regular and Reserve soldiers integrating, adapting, working together, testing themselves and each other in what is proving to be an especially harsh and demanding environment. The training is as realistic, innovative and exciting as possible, with soldiers deployed for six weeks on the Plain, driving the development of our core soldiering skills.”
Four distinct battlegroups
7th Infantry Brigade is a 'light' Brigade meaning it has a mix of infantry on foot, infantry using high mobility light vehicles like Jackal and Foxhound and Light Cavalry soldiers who are reconnaissance experts using vehicles like Jackal and Coyote. This makes the Desert Rats highly deployable, able to move quickly anywhere around the world.
It's the first time on such an exercise that four distinct battlegroups have come together to tackle a realistic training scenario.
The battlegroups consist of:
· 1st The Queen’s Dragoon Guards, augmented by the Reservists of the Royal Yeomanry;
· 2nd Battalion The Royal Anglian Regiment augmented by a company of 1st Battalion the Royal Anglian Regiment;
· The Light Brigade Support Group, a composite battlegroup of logisticians and medics and equipment support specialists commanded by 6th Regiment Royal Logistics Corps – their role is to ensure the soldiers are fed and hydrated, have the ammunition and fuel that they need to fight and the medical facilities to deal with both simulated and real casualties; and
· A bespoke battlegroup made up of Army Reserves. This is the largest deployment of Army Reserves in 7th Infantry Brigade since the Reserve units came under command of the Desert Rats in 2015. About 450 soldiers from 3rd Battalion The Royal Anglian Regiment and the 3rd and 4th Battalions of the Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment will be the Opposing Forces or ‘enemy’ during the realistic for on force scenario. Both sides are fighting to win, and there is a great deal of pride at stake.
So far, the troops out in the field have faced some challenging weather, with storms Ciara and Dennis adding to testing conditions on the ground. Vehicle mechanics from the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers have worked around the clock to keep a fleet of more than 600 vehicles battle-worthy despite the mud, rain, wind and stormy conditions.
An adaptable battlegroup
Lieutenant Colonel Will Meddings, Commanding Officer of 2nd Battalion, the Royal Anglian Regiment, outlined his unit’s role and objectives.
He said: “For 2 Royal Anglian, this is part of our progression after coming back from Cyprus where we’ve been for the last two years, learning the skills that we need for our new role, which is the Light Mechanised Infantry role, and then practising them on Salisbury Plain to get us ready for operations later this year.
“You need to be able to survive and fight from your vehicles in all weather, day and night, in all circumstances, for long periods of time – that’s what I mean by an adaptable battlegroup. Essentially, it means we can carry out the missions asked of us in all conditions.”
Exercise Wessex Storms continues into early March.