Wales' world-class training estate on full display on Exercise Cambrian Patrol

When soldiers from across the world descend on Mid Wales for NATO's toughest patrolling challenge, they get a sense of how British Army troops regularly hone their skills and fitness in the most rugged of environments.

And for the head of the Army in Wales, Brigadier Andrew Dawes CBE, that is the reason why Exercise Cambrian Patrol has endured for more than half a century.

In the wider context of what Wales offers for Defence and what investment Defence makes in Wales, however, there is a wider story to be told. 

The Welsh Black Mountains are part of rich and fully appreciated training estate the British Army has used for decades. There is also Sennybridge Training Area, Castlemartin Firing Range, Caerwent Training Area and the iconic Brecon Beacons, to name a few.

"In the Welsh Black Mountains and in the Brecon Beacons we’ve long honed our very finest soldiers." Brigadier Andrew Dawes CBE, head of the Army in Wales

Brigadier Dawes, also Exercise Director for Cambrian Patrol, said: "There's a very good reason this event has been going since 1959 and why it's incredibly respected by our own people and a wide range of partner military’s who have to complete their own domestic competitions to a certain level, to even win the right to take part in this event.

"The landscape of Wales lends itself to testing our best soldiers in a realistic context with the most changing environmental conditions the UK has to offer. In the Welsh Black Mountains and in the Brecon Beacons we’ve long honed our very finest soldiers.

"Wales has a unique aspect and that’s why so many come here on Cambrian to really test themselves and face up to the ultimate challenge of basic infantry skills."

Brigadier Dawes said the aim was to always create the very best conditions, to constantly evolve and keep the standards as high as possible.

"It’s great to get this back on track. The understandable hiatus due to the pandemic has meant we’ve used that time to build back a better exercise. We’ve formalised it properly with our key customer if you like, the Field Army.

"We’ve taken time to work out what it is they want to get out of Cambrian and put a little bit more structure into the training objectives and also some of the assessment that goes on. It’s a great opportunity to test on the fitness and resilience of our soldiers as well as some of the tactical skills being deployed on the exercise.

"Some of the greatest pressure applied on this exercise is in the minds of the soldiers themselves as they put themselves under pressure. The scenario builds around the situations we expect to find ourselves in in the modern world. We’ve got an opposing force, some indigenous individuals who notionally live in this environment and will interact with the soldiers and anyone else who’s involved in the stands, such as Amputees in Action, which add a sense of realism to what’s faced."

Elaborating beyond Exercise Cambrian Patrol, Brigadier Dawes explained: "Wales has so much to offer. We have a world-class training estate and a very good relationship with the landowners who give us access to that training estate.

"We can be quite proud of what Wales does for Defence and what Defence provides in Wales." Brigadier Dawes

"But this is fairly low-end training for individuals and small patrols in the wider context of what we do here in Wales. There's the collective training in Sennybridge and most particularly of importance now is the live-firing exercises we do at the ranges in Castlemartin in West Wales, adapted in the last few weeks to deliver a Combined Arms Live Firing Exercise for a battlegroup which is readying itself to take on high readiness and NATO’s forward presence.

"That gives a sense of the utility of Wales for Defence, but there are far more things on offer. Wales is home to the only fighter pilot training facility in Defence: a unique capability up in Anglesey. North Wales is also home to a large number of Defence industry partners, many of which are unique in what they deliver into the wider capability, including more than 7,000 jobs and more than £1billion into the Welsh economy every year.

"We can be quite proud of what Wales does for Defence and what Defence provides in Wales. This Army business of ours is a people business, it’s about relationships. Importantly, in these days of being more and more connected, it’s about relationships with our allied partners and we use this event as a reference point and an illustration of what our standards are. I’m delighted we have nearly 20 international patrols taking part this year but we want to build that back up to nearly double next year, which really reflects the British Army’s global outlook."