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By air to battle on Steadfast Defender

By parachute, helicopter and airlanding, the British Army’s Global Response Force has shown how it could rapidly reinforce NATO troops in Estonia in the event of a crisis.

From the reconnaissance work of Pathfinders to the airlanding of a Multiple Launch Rocket System (MLRS), the unique skills of 16 Air Assault Brigade Combat Team (16 Air Asslt BCT) have been tested on Exercise Swift Response.

16 Air Assault Brigade Combat Team is uniquely ready - for any operation, any task, anywhere in the world. We use air manoeuvre to make us faster in our deployments and to give us the reach to deliver military effect anywhere in the world.” Brigadier Mark Berry, 16 Air Assault Brigade Combat Team

The training saw 2,300 soldiers, sailors, and aviators from four NATO nations rehearse how they could seize a foothold against armed opposition – known in military jargon as a joint forcible entry.

The mission started with Pathfinders, 16 Air Asslt’s advance force, entering Estonia discreetly to find locations for 3rd Battalion The Parachute Regiment Battlegroup to arrive by parachute and helicopter in near simultaneous operations.

Some 140 British and US paratroopers jumped from US Air Force C-17 transport aircraft on to a drop zone at Nurmsi marked by Pathfinders. Kiltsi airfield was captured by British and Polish paratroopers in an air assault operation using the Apache attack, Wildcat reconnaissance, and Chinook support helicopters of 4 Regiment Army Air Corps Battlegroup.

After Kiltsi was secured, the paratroopers were lifted from Nurmsi by Chinooks, while a specialist airfield damage repair team from 23 Parachute Engineer Regiment brought the runway into operation.

Over the next 24 hours, further troops, equipment and vehicles arrived at Kiltsi by C-17s and RAF A400M transport aircraft. A key element was 1st Battalion Royal Irish Regiment, which pushed out into the surrounding countryside in Jackal and Foxhound patrol vehicles to grow a security bubble around the airfield.

The culmination of the exercise was the delivery of an MLRS in an A400M. The powerful artillery system – dubbed ‘the 70km sniper’ – carried out a simulated fire mission to strike targets to allow the force to make its next move.

Brigadier Mark Berry, Commander of 16 Air Asslt BCT, said: “16 Air Assault Brigade Combat Team is uniquely ready - for any operation, any task, anywhere in the world. We use air manoeuvre to make us faster in our deployments and to give us the reach to deliver military effect anywhere in the world.

Putting soldiers into battle by air is an immensely complex and demanding activity, for which 16 Brigade trains hard." Brigadier Mark Berry, 16 Air Assault Brigade Combat Team

“Putting soldiers into battle by air is an immensely complex and demanding activity, for which 16 Brigade trains hard. Our work in Estonia has developed our specialist skills alongside our allies and demonstrated both our capability and our readiness to rapidly project force in support of our NATO allies.”   

The manoeuvres in Estonia are one element of the US Army Europe and Africa-led Exercise Swift Response, which 16 Air Asslt BCT has participated in every year since 2015. This year’s iteration sees 13,000 troops from 17 nations training together in eight countries – stretching across Europe from the Baltics to the Balkans - to deliver six co-ordinated airborne operations across one week.

The training forms part of Steadfast Defender 24, NATO’s largest military exercise since the Cold War. Some 20,000 British personnel are among 90,000 troops from all 32 NATO allies training together to test plans to reinforce European defences.