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North East Gunners at the sharp end

A British Army artillery unit took full advantage of the vast expanse of Otterburn Training Area last month to deliver a world-class military exercise.

The 4th Regiment Royal Artillery (4 Regt RA), which traditionally recruits from the North East of England, got to grips with a range of simulated challenges as they completed Exercise Sunderland Dagger.

An array of state-of-the-art equipment was used during the training, including tiny drones to observe ‘enemy’ positions, the L118 Light Gun to pound adversaries into submission, and American F-15 Eagle fighters to blast away at any remnants.

Innovation is a key theme for the Fighting Fourth Major Denton

Major Denton, 129 (Dragon) Battery Commander, said: “Innovation is a key theme for the Fighting Fourth. It ultimately means we are more effective in our warfighting capability.

“We saw numerous examples of innovation at work [on this exercise], such as slight refinements at the tactical level in how we do our core business or new bits of technology being brought in to enhance what we already have.”

Although 4 Regt RA is based in Topcliffe, North Yorkshire, it retains strong links to the North East, hence the naming of the exercise.

Its officers and soldiers, comprised of both men and women from a wide range of ethnic backgrounds, are the core of a unit that prides itself on empowering personnel.

Even the VIP visitor, Warrant Officer Class One Gavin Paton, the Army Sergeant Major at the time of the exercise, was mightily impressed by the junior leaders on show.

So much so that he awarded a commemorative coin to one of the young soldiers that guided him around the Light Gun.

Another of the rising stars in the unit, Sunderland AFC fan Bombardier Cowell, was keen to point out how the unit has helped his professional development.

Everyone does what they need to do Bombardier Cowell

He said: "I left school with not that many GCSEs, then when I got into the Army, there was a heavy focus on getting qualifications. 

"I love the job. I'm stepping up to be a Fire Support Team commander, there is a lot more responsibility. But everyone plays the game, everyone does what they need to do."

Recent years have seen 4 Regt RA support exercises across the globe, from Canada to Kenya, in addition to deploying on Operation Tosca with the UN in Cyprus.

The unit are very much part of the Army’s Future Soldier programme and will doubtless be at the forefront of technological innovation in the coming decades.