More than 2,500 soldiers led by 7th Infantry Brigade (The Desert Rats) have just completed one of the largest UK exercises designed to test their readiness for future operations.
Exercise Wessex Storm 2021 saw the Joint Expeditionary Force (JEF) Light Brigade proving their military and modern professional soldiering skills make them fit to deploy anywhere in the world as the Army’s Light Brigade at readiness.
“Exercise Wessex Storm has provided the perfect opportunity to test and develop our thinking on 21st Century Soldiering as articulated in the Integrated Review." Brigadier JJ de Quincey Adams OBE (Jasper), Commander 7th Infantry Brigade and Headquarters East
The soldiers were drawn from units from the UK and France including 1st Battalion the Royal Irish Regiment (1Royal Irish); the Scots Dragoon Guards; 7 Regiment Royal Logistics Corps (RLC); 33 Engineer Regiment; 32 Engineer Regiment; 4th Regiment Royal Artillery; and a contingent from 4 RMT Régiment de marche du Tchad, a mechanised unit of the French Army, belonging to the Troupes de Marine.
The French Company operated as part of the 1 Royal Irish battlegroup, providing them with an additional company of light infantry during the exercise.
Captain Boris Beral, Officer Commanding 4 RMT Régiment de marche du Tchad, said: “We learnt interesting lessons every day and that interoperability is something real. I learnt a lot about high intensity warfare on the exercise and we want to recreate its realism in our own exercises in the future.”
1st Battalion, the Royal Anglian Regiment (Vikings) took part in a parallel Command Post Exercise (CPX) proving their readiness for upcoming commitments.
The troops were tested to the limit during weeks of challenging serials which took place at a range of Army training areas across the UK including Salisbury Plain Training Area (SPTA) Corsham Mines and Caerwent Army Training Area in Monmouthshire, Wales.
The exercise was designed to test their ability to conduct and develop 21st Century soldiering and combined arms manoeuvre, against a free-thinking near-peer enemy and employed new tactics which were developed for light forces to win.
The “enemy”, provided by “Task Force Hannibal”, a dedicated opposing force made up of infantry specialists from , 2nd and 3rd Battalions of the Royal Anglian Regiment and armoured specialists from the Queens Royal Hussars battlegroup, tested the combat readiness of the Desert Rats, the Army’s commitment to the Joint Expeditionary Force.
The exercise was complex deploying a sophisticated and comprehensive mix of artillery, ISTAR (Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition and Reconnaissance) logistics, equipment support, engineering and medical support, light cavalry and protected mobility infantry - all working together to win.
Throughout they were joined by Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) search assets, and military working dogs.
The Army Air Corps (AAC) provided Wildcat and Apache and the RAF provided Chinook (CH47) to support air assaults and air manoeuvres.
New and innovative capabilities such as a new forward headquarters housed in an easily transportable ISO Container, geographic intelligence (GEOINT) drones, capable of building a 3D picture of complex terrain, and the new Command Launch Unit (CLU) for the Javelin anti-tank missile, which is lighter and has extended range, were all tested and added huge capability to the Light Brigade.
Equally, with current doctrine focused around armoured forces, novel light force tactics were employed, playing to the strengths of junior leaders, deployed as small bands of soldiers to act as anti-tank hunter-killer teams.
The success of this lay in empowering the small groups of Junior Non-Commissioned Officers (JNCOs) with a deep understanding of the ground and the mission at hand, to target “enemy” tanks with anti-tank rockets including Law and Javelin.
Units faced a host of simulated and mocked-up scenarios, including everything from media engagement to working with both allies and host nation security forces.
They also included scenarios focused on delivering humanitarian assistance and disaster relief to communities devastated by conflict.
The final phase of the exercise saw two huge challenges presented to the battlegroups, significantly increasing the complexity of their task.
“We learnt interesting lessons every day and that interoperability is something real. I learnt a lot about high intensity warfare on the exercise and we want to recreate its realism in our own exercises in the future.” Captain Boris Beral, Officer Commanding 4 RMT Régiment de marche du Tchad
The Scots Dragoon Guards (SCOTS DG) conducted a 50-mile road move to Caerwent before conducting a raid against an enemy location, supported by air assaulting forces.
Their Commanding Officer, Lt Col Graeme Craig, said: “Four months ago SCOTS DG transitioned from supporting the Scottish Government in the fight against COVID-19 to training in our core role as a Light Cavalry battlegroup, with barely a moment to catch our breath as we reset our focus.
“The learning curve was therefore very steep indeed, and I am immensely proud of how every one of our officers and soldiers (including those from our attached arms) rose to the challenge as we progressed sharply up to battlegroup level competence.
“We achieved validation in our core role as light cavalry and are now combat ready. As such, Scots DG provides an important contribution to the British Army’s warfighting credibility as the Light Cavalry Battlegroup at readiness, and its licence to operate.”
“As a Light Cavalry Battlegroup our core role is reconnaissance. In combat operations that means we are focussed on understanding the enemy and in other operations below the threshold of conflict.
“We might be looking in detail at the human terrain and perhaps understanding the local powerbrokers within a conflict situation and understanding what the social dynamics are that are lurking beneath the conflict itself.
“Exercise Wessex Storm has validated us in our core role as Light Cavalry and this is important because we are at readiness as part of 7 Bde – and as such might be expected to deploy on operations across the spectrum of conflict.
Soldiers from the 1st Battalion the Royal Irish Regiment (1RIRISH) took part in a simulated attack on an enemy command and control node in the vast subterranean (70km of tunnels) complex of the Corsham Mines in Wiltshire.
Leaders at all levels, from JNCOs to battlegroup commanders learnt a huge amount from these, gaining experience in operating in novel environments which will help them to continue to innovate in the future.”
Their Commanding Officer, Lt Col Tom Forrest, said: “Exercise Wessex Storm provided 1RIRISH with an opportunity to prove its capability in the field, validating our readiness credentials.
“It also provided a vehicle to experiment with alternative ways of operating. We will develop these concepts further during our series of autumn commitments, which include deployments to the US, Zambia and Oman.
Brigadier JJ de Quincey Adams OBE (Jasper), Commander of Cottesmore based 7th Infantry Brigade and Headquarters East, who was in overall command of the force, emphasised the importance and role of the Light Brigade Support Group in sustaining the soldiers throughout the exercise.
He said: “7th Infantry Brigade (The Desert Rats) are the Light Brigade at Readiness, the Army’s contribution to the Joint Expeditionary Force (JEF) and a key element of our commitment to NATO.
“Exercise Wessex Storm has provided the perfect opportunity to test and develop our thinking on 21st Century Soldiering as articulated in the Integrated Review.
“Exercise Wessex Storm provided 1RIRISH with an opportunity to prove its capability in the field, validating our readiness credentials." 1 Royal Irish Commanding Officer, Lt Col Tom Forrest
“Sustaining ourselves is a key element of the JEF – we must not become a burden to our allies or partners – and we were totally dependent on the Light Brigade Support Group (LBSG).
“7 Regiment Royal Logistics Corps provided the core of the LBSG with dedicated sub-units of REME, Medics and Logistics that ensured we maintained our operational tempo.
“On this exercise, for the first time in many years, they have been simultaneously tested across multiple training areas against the most demanding enemy.
“They have routinely been required to protect themselves and join the infantry and cavalry in the fight.
“I have been really impressed by the learning environment within the LBSG – they are constantly striving to improve – to be better tomorrow than they were today.
“They have taken everything we can throw at them in their stride – always with a smile – and are a truly great team.”