Royal Engineer fuel specialists train alongside NATO partner

British Army fuel specialists who keep the Army operating worldwide have been training with German Armed Forces personnel over the last 12 months in Germany, the UK and in Cyprus.

Based in Nottingham, in the heart of the Midlands, 516 Specialist Team Royal Engineers (Bulk Petroleum) (516 STRE (BP)) is part of 170 (Infrastructure Support) Engineer Group and provides a strategic bulk fuel storage and distribution capability.

Fuel is essential for the Army’s day-to-day work. From exercises to deployments and more, the Army relies on fuel to keep its vehicles, aircraft and equipment operational.

A team of 29 Royal Engineers from (516 STRE(BP)) joined German troops from 164 Special Engineer Regiment and the Special Engineer Training and Exercise Centre (SETEC) in Putlos, Germany for Exercise Fuels Friendship 1 and 2.

These exercises saw the Utilities and Petroleum fitters repair a damaged section of a live high-pressure fuel pipeline, simulating the Central European Pipeline system.

Initially, the skilled technicians carried out an on-site assessment of the suspected defect before calculating the extent of the damage and finally fixing the problem.

These types of joint training exercises are a great opportunity to learn from each other. We now understand much more about our international partner’s capabilities and how we can work more closely together to become more interoperable. This is crucial in ensuring that NATO forces can work effectively together on operations. Major Francis, 516 STRE (BP)

The damaged section had to be isolated, the pressure drawn down and the military specialists had to ensure no vapour was present, which would have created a flammable atmosphere. The pipeline was cut using hydraulic cutting tools, whilst the welders in the team prepared a section of replacement pipe. Once the repair was complete, the pipe was then re-pressurised and re-commissioned. 

The team's two welders deployed on the exercise. They were introduced to the German welding capability and received lessons on different welding techniques before demonstrating their own skills during the final stages of the exercise.

Fabricator welder Lance Corporal Tocker said they had learnt from each other throughout the exercise: “We received amazing training from a number of very experienced and qualified tradesmen."

The welders deployed their own Permanent Infrastructure Repair Equipment (PIRE) to demonstrate its capabilities and used it to support the damaged pipeline repair. The PIRE consists of two bespoke 20 feet long ISO containers - one holds the tools and equipment and the second contains the welders’ workshop.

Parallel to the pipeline repair activities, the Clerk-of-Works team designed a potential ship-to-shore fuel transfer, cross-country pipeline and fuel distribution system. This design would enable fuel to be moved from a ship anchored offshore, across the shoreline and into a storage location to then be used for refuelling air assets. To do this, they needed to consult team members back in the UK as well as Army Reserves from 503 STRE (Fuels Infra) to help complete this work.

More recently, 516 STRE (BP) deployed on an exercise to Cyprus, with a number of Bundeswehr personnel attached to the team. This time, the focus was on constructing a ship-to-shore fuel pipeline, a cross-country pipeline and supporting host nation fuels infrastructure organisations in an austere setting.

All of these exercises take a significant amount of planning and coordination. None of this would have been possible without the logistics specialists in the team who organised and deployed the team’s kit and equipment from its base in the UK to both Germany and Cyprus. 

Logistics Specialist Corporal Hayward said: “We have a lot of heavy engineering equipment which takes a significant amount of lift to deploy it forward. We have to factor in crane operators, forklift drivers and vehicles to transport the ISO containers as well as oversized loads. We also have to produce all the customs paperwork and follow any local regulations. It has been an interesting year; we learnt a lot and, more importantly, we delivered, so the exercises could go ahead without any problems.”

The Officer Commanding 516 STRE (BP) Major Mike Francis, said: “These types of joint training exercises are a great opportunity to learn from each other. We now understand much more about our international partner’s capabilities and how we can work more closely together to become more interoperable. This is crucial in ensuring that NATO forces can work effectively together on operations.”

The Federal Minister of Defence for Germany, Her Excellency Christine Lambrecht, visited the UK this week as a guest of the Secretary of State for Defence, Ben Wallace. The two Defence Secretaries held talks on bilateral cooperation and partnership on defence matters.