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Reflecting on NATO’s Exercise Steadfast Defender 24

The 12th Armoured Brigade Combat Team (12ABCT) deployed to Poland earlier this year on Exercise Immediate Response, one of the sub-exercises within NATO’s largest deployment since The Cold War – Exercise Steadfast Defender 24.

For Exercise Immediate Response approximately 2,500 personnel and more than 800 vehicles deployed into Poland under the command of the 3rd (United Kingdom) Division.

Major General James Martin, the Divisional Commander, said:

It is the first time we have deployed a British Armoured Brigade Combat Team in the form of 12 ABCT, into the field from the UK since 2003 Major General James Martin, Divisional Commander

“It is the first time we have deployed a British Armoured Brigade Combat Team in the form of 12ABCT, into the field from the UK since 2003. So, about the trajectory of getting back to fighting at scale, I think is why, Exercise Immediate Response is so important.”

Drawsko Pomorskie Training Area was the location for the culmination of the British Army’s involvement in Exercise Steadfast Defender 24.

Under the command of 12ABCT were 4th Squadron of the US 10th Cavalry Regiment, and alongside them a Polish Mechanised Brigade all working under 29th Infantry Division, also of the US, making this a truly multinational effort, and a test of allied interoperability.

Over the exercise 12ABCT exercised much of its capability, which had been deployed and projected across Europe into the exercise area, by road, sea, and rail.

It also trialled some new innovations and experimented with old and new techniques learned from the conflict in Ukraine, some of which have not been seen since the Cold War.

One solution built by Royal Engineers in a day was a fully subterranean command post from which the Brigade could control its battles.

Captain Edward Cooke of the Royal Wessex Yeomanry explained:

“We are dug in for our own protection. It makes us a lot harder to detect and it makes us a lot harder to destroy if we come under artillery fire or anything like that.”

Among other innovations being tested, were the use of quadcopter drones by Battle Group recce forces and medics working with ‘augmented reality telemedicine’, where front line medics wearing Augmented Reality headsets on the battlefield were guided by more senior doctors back at the field hospital.

2 Medical Regiment also worked hand in hand with US medics offering helicopter casualty evacuations.

Captain Gen Greene, a Nursing Officer, said:

“We have similar technology, drugs, and training, but we have some differences as well, but overall, how they deliver their training and pathway to become a paramedic for the Blackhawk helicopter is comparable.”

27 Regiment Royal Logistic Corps also tested out new communications systems to enable logistics support elements to operate with greater dispersal.

Major Jeff Tibbett, Planning Officer for 101 Operational Sustainment Brigade, known as the Iron Vipers, said:

“This exercise truly showcased where the Iron Vipers sit in the journey from warehouse to warrior. We were able to demonstrate how working with industry, integrating civilians and reservists enhances the delivery of sustainment without increasing workforce.”

Major Rich Cummings of 1 Field Company, 5 Force Support Battalion, the Corps of the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (REME) added:

“When we combine this with our newest capabilities such as metal 3D printing of parts in the field, and as the Army’s only unit capable of repairing the engine and gearbox (known as the powerpack) of a Challenger 2 tank without having to ship it back to the factory, we are seeing a step change in support capability which is agile, and capable of keeping our vital armour in the fight.”

In the final week, as a culmination to the exercise, the Brigade moved nearly one thousand UK and US armoured vehicles across a large crossing point on the Drawa River. They used M3 Amphibious Bridging river ferries which are deployed as transforming road vehicles, but unfurl into vehicles rafts as they literally race into the water.

There are over nineteen-hundred wide wet gap crossings in the northern part of Europe, so it is more than appropriate that we have the capability to cross these Major Ryan Ingram, OC 23 Amphibious Engineers

Major Ryan Ingram, Officer Commanding 23 Amphibious Engineers said:

“There are over nineteen-hundred wide wet gap crossings in the northern part of Europe, so it is more than appropriate that we have the capability to cross these, in case we are required to do so.”

Exercise Immediate Response truly tested the force projection and lethality, allied interoperability and armoured capabilities of the Brigade. This included both the Royal Tank Regiment’s Challenger 2 tanks and 26 Engineer Regiment with their Challenger 2 variant Titan and Trojan Armoured Engineer Vehicles, used to build bridges, and demolish obstacles, respectively.

Warrant Officer Class Two Luke Mason, 1 Mercian Battlegroup, said of the troops who experienced the exercise:

If we were called forward into any type of conflict, I think it fills them with that confidence that we’d be going en masse, well trained, well-armed and well prepared WO2 Luke Mason, 1 MERCIAN Battle Group

“If we were called forward into any type of conflict, I think it fills them with that confidence that we’d be going en masse, well trained, well-armed and well prepared.”

From the most junior to the most senior soldiers, the exercise demonstrated the sheer scale and impact of an Armoured Brigade Combat Team in the field.

12th Armoured Brigade Combat Team Commander, Brigadier Henry Searby summed it up:

“It’s a pretty rare thing to be able to take armies overseas and operate on a far bank somewhere and make all that work. I would hope people would take some heart from watching their Army be able to do something like this with these sorts of numbers, at this sort of scale, and with some of the skillsets and capabilities that are on show today.”