Fire power to aerial reconnaissance have been put to the test on Salisbury Plain Training Area, Wiltshire with the aim to validate readiness and demonstrate multi-capability teamwork.
Over three weeks, Exercise Cypher Strike saw 7th Parachute Regiment Royal Horse Artillery (7 Para RHA) and an array of units coming together to hone the skills and interoperability that would be required to deploy on operations together.
Major Jim Burnett, 7 Para RHA's regimental Second-in-Command (2ic):
“This is our regimental validation firing camp. We have multiple units from the Army integrated with us to conduct and provide support to 16 Air Assault Brigade Combat Team (BCT). These elements consist of observation and reconnaissance from Wildcat, Remote Pilot Air System (RPAS), radar and to put Joint Fires on the ground - where there is more than once piece of equipment delivering the firepower."
As part of 16 Brigade Combat Team (BCT) and the Global Response Force our training cadence is very high. Communication and understanding the battlefield is vital throughout this exercise, at the end it allows us to say to the Brigade Commander that we are good to go Major Jim Burnett
7 Para RHA
7 Para RHA’s 105mm Light Guns and Fire Support Teams were supported by 1st Regiment Army Air Corps’ Wildcat helicopter and 32 Regiment Royal Artillery’s Puma RPAS. Both assets were employed to send detailed reconnaissance data to the Command Post located deep within the thick woodland on the ground below.
Major Rob Bramley, Officer Commanding 659 Squadron, Army Air Corps explains the value of the Wildcat on this Exercise and how its capability is crucial on Operations:
“The Wildcat Reconnaissance Helicopter (RH) provides reach and operational agility with a broad spectrum of capabilities that are unique to the platform – Air Observation Posts / Artillery Target Indication, is just one of them. Its passive sensors allow the crews to rapidly exploit targets of opportunity and capitalise on the ground commander’s intent."
And he adds:
“The Army crewing also provides an inherent tactical understanding that generates an instinctive focus of effort aligned to Land forces. The Wildcat RH’s ability to operate in GPS denied environments, in all weather conditions, by day and night as a Forward Air Control (Airborne) (FAC(A)) platform give it a crucial role to play over the next decade.
Additionally, its light, scalable logistical footprint makes it a versatile option to deploy early on operations with other advance forces to infiltrate and exfiltrate small teams with reconnaissance being its 'bread and butter.' Much of this was exercised during Cypher Strike."
The Exercise was spread across many miles of the cold and windy Salisbury Plain Training Area, taking place both day and night, with personnel sleeping alongside their equipment. The interoperability of units with a focus on precise reconnaissance and accurate communications were all essential for this initiative to be deemed a success.
Lieutenant Hugh Jolly, F (Sphinx) Parachute Battery, 7 Para RHA is the Command Post Officer:
“My role is to translate the data that comes from the Wildcat, Puma or our Fire Support Teams. We then turn these details into information that we can then send out to the guns who are then able to fire on selected targets.”
And he adds:
“As a combined arms exercise, we’re doing this to make sure we’re up to speed whilst keeping our qualifications current. Cypher Strike also provides us with an opportunity to develop the way that we fight and further perfect our ability to manoeuvre and deploy our guns.”
Colchester-based 7 Para RHA is part of 16 Air Assault BCT, the British Army’s global response force, which is held at high readiness to deploy on operations around the world. For 7 Para RHA - known as the ‘Airborne Gunners’ – this exercise is about getting the tick in the box to say they are ready and able to go anywhere at a moment’s notice.
Adds Major Burnett, 2ic 7 Para RHA:
“We need to display that we are up to speed on all aspects of our role and able to display interoperability with other capabilities providing support to us.
This is the culmination of a year's worth of Battle Craft Syllabus (BCS) training outside of a collective training environment.”
Another component to the Exercise and providing another method of observation and reconnaissance was Puma, the (RPAS) operated by 32 Regiment Royal Artillery. This unmanned aerial system can fly for over two hours and reach altitudes of up to 10,000 feet. It can be airborne in minutes and requires a minimal crew to operate.
Bombardier Adam Wilmshurst from 21 Air Assault Battery based at Larkhill, explains their role:
“Primarily we’re an intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition, and reconnaissance (ISTAR) capability. We are the extra eyes in the sky and like the Wildcat we are sending data gathered to the Command Post.”
We need to display that we are up to speed on all aspects of our role and able to display interoperability with other capabilities providing support to us. Major Jim Burnett
7 Para RHA
Also taking part in Cypher Strike were the weapon locating radars of 5th Regiment Royal Artillery and mortars from 2nd Battalion The Royal Gurkha Rifles, giving another firepower option. This collective effort of capabilities used their individual expertise to find and track targets, and then destroy them, building on lessons learnt and focusing on developing new skills for the future.
Major Burnett 2ic 7 Para RHA concludes:
“As part of 16 Brigade Combat Team (BCT) and the Global Response Force our training cadence is very high. Communication and understanding the battlefield is vital throughout this exercise, at the end it allows us to say to the Brigade Commander that we are good to go.”