Trooper Charmaine Cochrane from the Queen's Royal Hussars explains the importance of the two-week exercise.
There are still mounds of winter snow near the banks of the frozen Lake Valkiajarvi at the Niinisalo Training Camp in the west of Finland. But as the white dissipates into grit and dirt in the slightly rising temperatures, an array of military personnel, armoured vehicles and equipment forms a steady and purposeful manoeuvre into the Finnish garrison.
The largest of those fighting vehicles is the Challenger 2 Main Battle Tank, belonging to the Queen’s Royal Hussars (QRH), arriving to take part in Exercise Arrow. And there is plenty of interest in the vehicle from our Finnish bilateral partner soldiers who got to meet the British Army personnel during an integration day at Niinisalo.
Trooper Charmaine Cochrane drives the Bulldog armoured vehicle, with previous experience of driving through the wood blocks and tight spaces of training ranges in Estonia.
“Being in Finland is fantastic for the regiment,” said Charmaine, who lives in Tidworth, has been in the Army for four years and is also a qualified gunner and loader.
“This exercise has been in the planning for the last six months and we’ve never had Challenger 2 here before, so it’s an exciting prospect.
“The Finnish soldiers have been very welcoming and taken us out to show us all their vehicles. Equally, they are very interested in our capability and how we go about our business. You get a strong sense that our allies really respect us: they respect our expertise and professionalism.”
Exercise Arrow is a two-week long training exercise that aims to develop Finnish Defence Forces’ ground combat capabilities and the ability to operate joint fires, alongside international Allies. The exercise will test and develop mechanised units operating in a multinational environment, with more than 3,000 soldiers in total taking part.
There will be the US Army Europe’s Cavalry Regiment’s Stryker armoured fighting vehicle, a mechanised infantry platoon from Latvia with Finnish-made Patria vehicles, the Estonian armoured Jaeger platoon, equipped with CV9035’s, plus the Finnish soldiers using Leopard armoured fighting vehicles.
Charmaine said: “We want to be able to operate in different climates, learn from our allies and them from us. You will always take something positive away from partner nations. It’s an invaluable experience.
“I really enjoyed the Estonia experience because it was great for developing your skill set. Being out here in Finland is a great follow on to that.
“Being deployed and being away is what it’s all about. I don’t think I can go three months without volunteering to go and explore, to go overseas and to work with partner nations, getting to understand their military approach and their culture.
“We’ve got a strong, core bond in the QRH and that stems from our time being based in Germany.”
Wing Commander Steve Boyle, UK Defence Attache in Helsinki, said the Finnish-led bilateral exercise was an excellent opportunity for the QRH to be involved in and bring their expertise to the Pohjankangas training ranges.
“UK Defence Forces haven’t been in Finland for a couple of years because of COVID-19,” said Wg Cdr Boyle.
“But being interoperable with like-minded allies like Finland, which is one of 10 Joint Expeditionary Force nations, is pretty important and means that we can operate with each other to respond to a range of crises in world.
“JEF is on a journey, and we've made massive progress in the last year or so.
“Being able to do things in partnership demonstrates resolve, togetherness and it demonstrates that if a crisis comes, not necessarily in the Baltics or Nordic Baltics, but elsewhere in the world, a group of like-minded countries could get together, think about it, plan for it and be used to operating with each other to go and do something.”
“Exercise Arrow was an “important calendar day” for the Finnish Defence Forces.”
UK Defence Forces haven’t been in Finland for a couple of years because of COVID-19,” Wing Commander Steve Boyle, UK Defence Attache in Helsinki
He said: “They do things very differently from UK defence. Most of the Finnish soldiers participating are conscripts, with a few Reservists, and this is a key exercise towards the end of their training where they can prove to their command chain that they can get in their Leopard tanks and fight against a capable adversary.
"Clearly, we like to think the QRH are a pretty capable adversary, so it's going be a tough test for the Finns.
“Finland is a pretty large country actually. Pohjankangas is one of a number of land training areas and is pretty close to some air bases, so they can get air and land integration going.
“Their main Finnish training area is about half the size of Wales, which is in Rovajarvi up in the Arctic Circle, which actually provides a much bigger training area.
“I think what I like about this training area is it makes the tanks come into contact, so there are limited opportunities for avoiding contact. So I can guarantee that the tanks will be fighting each other to test each other’s capabilities.”