The Leopard 2 Finnish tanks had been poised in position for a few minutes, surveying what was in front of them and ready to manoeuvre.
Then all of a sudden the ground roared, the noise of gun fire erupted and everything was in play - including the British Army’s Challenger 2 Main Battle Tank.
This is Exercise Arrow and an opportunity for the Queen’s Royal Hussars (QRH) to showcase their full capability in front of a sizeable watching audience of media from around the world.
Tank Commander, Sergeant Kieran Jardine, said he and his crew relish this kind of experience.
“The Challenger 2 is the biggest armoured vehicle out here and I think it’s the best tank in the world,” said the 30 year old, from Birmingham.
“But of course I’m biased.
“Wherever we go, it always draws the attention. We’ve loved being in Finland and testing ourselves in an opposing forces role. Our main job is shock action, always to get at the enemy hard, fast and aggressive and destroy what’s in front of us for the rest of the Army to roll in behind.
“Being here is one of the few occasions where we get to do force on force, instead of being in simulators against a notional enemy.
"Whereas now, we’re up against a free-thinking, free-moving force, so it’s going to make us think harder. So this is pretty unique being involved.”
Exercise Arrow is taking place on the Pohjankangas training area near Niinisalo Garrison in the west of the country. In addition to Finnish Defence Forces, the exercise involves other partner nations, including US Army Europe troops and equipment, Estonians and Latvians.
The objective over the two weeks is to develop the Finnish Defence Force ground combat capabilities and the ability to operate joint fires, alongside international allies, with more than 3,000 troops and 670 vehicles.
Among that are 14 Challenger 2’s and its supporting equipment, plus more than 100 British Army personnel to operate it.
Kieran said: “The tank is fixed with a 120mm main armoured cannon, which we use to defeat that enemy threat, with various types of ammunition. We’ve also got a 7.62mm general purpose machine gun for smaller targets and also a 1200 break-horse power engine, which gets us from A to B pretty sharpish. It’s very heavily armoured but surprisingly comfy across country.
“We’re very good at what we do. We spend a lot of time training and building that rapport with other nations and you do get a sense we’re hugely respected. We pride ourselves on being the best and maintaining that level of expertise.
“Using the camouflage on the vehicles, that’s something we’ve started to incorporate here in Finland because it’s about adapting to different environments, climates and terrains. It’s about how we cooperate on the battlefield.”
The QRH is based in Tidworth and is the armoured regiment for 20th Armoured Infantry Brigade Combat Team and provides the lethal heavy punch of the Brigade.
B Squadron Leader, Major George Trypanis, said his troops would benefit hugely from being being involved in Exercise Arrow, a biannual event, but featuring the Challenger 2 for the first time and taking place on the 80th anniversary of the establishment of the Finnish Armoured Division.
“This year the exercise is bigger, with more troops, across five nations,” said George.
“Salisbury Plain has open areas with small interspersed woodblocks, whereas here it’s a case of much more closely together wooded blocks, thickly dense area. We’ve not stopped exercising throughout COVID but the overseas opportunities were limited.
“It’s great to be the first British Army armoured sub unit to be out here. I want my soldiers to take many things away, such as understanding what it’s like to operate with other nations, on challenging terrain.
"The Finnish have a Leopard 2 tank which is something they’ll not have worked with before, so it’s about understanding their capabilities, their strengths and their weaknesses to get the most out of this.
“There’s a strong feeling of mutual respect with all partner nations involved in this, which is a bilateral relationship, testing interoperability and skills.”
Kieran said: “Being a tank commander, for me, is the pinnacle of joining the armoured corps. There’s four in a crew on a tank, 16 in a troop, so we’re used to working in tight-knit teams and you become very strong as a unit. We all have our roles and depend on each other because without that you can’t be effective.”
Lieutenant Colonel Kalle Laurila, of the Finnish Armoured Brigade, said it had been a "pleasure" working with the QRH during the past two weeks.
He said: " The British Army soldiers are very professional and very easy to operate alongside.
"Learning by doing is the main objective of Exercise Arrow. The Challenger 2 offers considerable firepower against the Finnish tank battalion and is of huge learning value to the conscripts.
"It's taken a lot of logistical planning and organisation to ensure Arrow is of maximum benefit to our soldiers and yours."