Exercise Bold Dragon tests NATO’s new eFP Battlegroup

1st Battalion The Royal Welsh (1RWELSH) Battlegroup recently got to grips with the harsh environment of the Tapa Central Training Area in Estonia to establish their role as lead for NATO’s enhanced Forward Presence (eFP).

Exercise Bold Dragon was a multinational integration exercise designed to test the ability of the NATO Alliances to work together in the challenging conditions of Keskpolügoon, the main military training ground.

The pre-planned 10-day exercise of both company and Battlegroup level training had one mission - to capture or destroy enemy ground forces and repel any attacks . B Company, 1 RWELSH provided the British infantry and armour capabilities whilst the enemy were played by the Estonian Defence Forces; in their first collective training since arriving in the Baltic State.

A snowy Estonian spring brought deep snow drifts and this, coupled with dense woodland, made it tough for both the dismounted infantry patrols and mounted warrior crews. Lance Corporal Calum Boorah is one of the more experienced warrior drivers, he said:

“This has been a good experience. It has been challenging due to the cold, snow and there is also a lot of water. When we are driving around or on foot patrol, we need to make sure we don’t get bogged in or get stuck in the roots. We are doing a good job of train hard to fight hard!”

We are doing a good job of train hard to fight hard!” Lance Corporal Calum Boorah

Corporal Connor Bucknall a Section Commander who deployed to Estonia in 2017, said of the conditions for the section attacks:

 “You need true grit to get through. In the trees, the snow was so thick and up to your knees. The wood blocks back in the UK are manmade perfectly for fighting in woods and forests. In Estonia they are spread out for kilometres so you can’t use the same tactics that we practiced back in the UK or previously on Operation Cabrit 2.

“We’ve now come up with a new system to fight through the wooded area, we took some inspiration from the Estonian Scouts Battalion and put our spin on it.”

For many on the tactical training exercise this is the first time they have been deployed overseas or worked with other armies. Fusilier Jaden Lambeth joined the battalion 11 weeks ago:

“I volunteered to deploy for the experience to operate in different environments. I imagined the Battlegroup to be a lot smaller, but it is huge.”

“I very much liked working with the Danes, their vehicles are great, and the teamwork was good.”

The latest Battlegroup is made up made up of a British Infantry Regiment, Artillery, Armour and Engineer sub-units. It also has a supporting element from the Royal Danish Army’s Viking Company, Jutland Dragoon Regiment. The company consists of three mechanised infantry platoons with Piranha V armoured personnel carriers, a wheeled vehicle well suited for diverse terrains and tactical mobility.

A French contingent from 7th Battalion Chasseurs Alpins (Alpine Hunters) will bolster the Alliance’s international commitments to the region with specialised troops who can operate in difficult terrain, they and the Danes will become an integral part of the eFP Battlegroup.

Lieutenant Julian from the French Alpine Hunters, said:

“My company are mountain troops in a light infantry role we are well trained to walk in the snow and in the mountains in winter. This is great training for us to continue our preparation for future operations.

“It’s a really good experience working with the British on this exercise, it is the first time for us. We are integrated under their command and have a Fire Support Team integrated with them. Our objective is to improve our capacity, tactical techniques and procedures and communicate better to show both the Estonian and European people that we can be ready to work together to defend Europe in the case of a crisis.”

Colonel Andreus Merilo, Commander 1st Division, Estonian 1st Infantry Brigade, said:

“This is the first time that we’ve had the UK, French and Danes operating in one Battlegroup. We have experience from different training events, we have been operating together before and we have learned and gained a lot of experience. The integration exercise is the result of that learning and experience so now we build up a clearly targeted way to achieve the integration of the eFP Battlegroup in the most effective and fastest way possible.

“The capabilities are similar and clearly needed by 1st Brigade, which means that the eFP Battlegroup and all the Nations contribute and bring decent offensive capabilities. As Brigade Commander it provides me with a quite heavy force to conduct clearly, the counter attacks and some additional offensive activity. So, they are here to enhance the Brigade to counter any aggression.”

Units from the outgoing Battlegroup, led by the Royal Tank Regiment will continue their vital work in Estonia carrying out bilateral taskings with European partners and NATO Allies, and supporting the new Battlegroup.