Fictional African scenario prepares Royal Anglians for war

Soldiers from the 1st Battalion, The Royal Anglian Regiment are currently training in the fierce heat and punishing terrain of the African bush. In the second of his special reports from the Vikings' training camps in Kenya, CHRIS HILL looks at how their mock opponents could prepare them for very real future foes.

The peace of a vulnerable African nation has been shattered by the shock invasion of neighbouring warriors.

The attackers are supported by a malignant militia, feeding on religious divisions across disputed borders, with an innocent civilian population caught in the crossfire.

But the complex uprising is suppressed and overcome by the forces of the Royal Anglian Regiment after a brief but brutal battle, fought in searing heat and on pitiless terrain.

It is a fictional scenario, of course, but one which is being played out thousands of miles away from home to prepare this region's soldiers for the realities of war.

The exercise is part of operation Askari Thunder, a six-week series of live-fire drills and simulated battles currently taking place near Archer's Post in northern Kenya.

The opponents are a conventional enemy which is equipped, trained and motivated at the same level as the Vikings.

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But the role-play is complicated by tribal rivalries, insurgencies and a divided population – some supporting the invaders, and some in desperate need of protection from them.

The scenario, and the training environment, bears obvious comparisons with the ongoing conflict in Afghanistan, where the regiment is expected to return for its fourth tour within the next two years.

But even before the end of this exercise, the revolutionary fervour sweeping northern Africa has culminated in British forces being sent to help the people of Libya – proving the need to prepare soldiers for new enemies as well as familiar ones.

So, a generic scenario has been constructed. The people of the fictional nation of Jela have been attacked by the army of Sortu, a neighbouring country seeking to grab land and seize natural resources.

In response, the Vikings send a forward platoon to take back a village. To help them, a fire support group scales a high rocky outcrop, carrying machine guns and a Javelin rocket launcher to support their comrades below, prevent the enemy's retreat, and cover the advance of back-up forces.

There are many new lessons to be learnt, but the tactic on this occasion is 'assault, suppress, reserve' – the way the British army has been fighting since world war two.

After taking the vital high ground, Capt Dave Crosbie of D Company, commander of Fire Support Group Charlie, said: 'Whoever is up here owns the battle. We have the bigger and heavier weapons, with a greater range and field of fire, which allow the rifle companies to move around the ground.

'We are not here to replicate Afghanistan – that's not what we have come here to do – but in terms of things like the heat and living on a forward operations base, training like this is great preparation in case we do go back.'

During the operation, young soldiers were advised on their positioning, lines of sight and when to open fire to eliminate their enemy while protecting friendly forces and civilians

Meanwhile, radio operators maintain a constant flow of detailed information for their commanders.

L/Cpl Simon Keable, who served with D Company in Afghanistan, said the training was invaluable: 'It is quite realistic – it is moving very fast and aggressively,' he said. 'I feel like I have come out of myself quite a lot since I have been here. We have all moved fast and learnt a lot.'

Lt Col Mick Aston, the Vikings' commanding officer, said: 'The training that we are doing here is a vital part of our progression, but it is not Afghan-specific. It is the very first step that we will build upon as we progress towards operations. When we are warned off towards Afghanistan we will move away from this training and focus on the skills we need for that situation.

'This is an incredibly useful exercise for understanding the limits of the rifle platoons as well as individuals. But it is all balanced with operational experience. We know what the intensity is so we can temper how hard we train to mimic the tempo of what we face on operations.'

The soldiers in Kenya are using a system called DTES (deployable tactical engagement simulation) with modified weapons firing laser beams which register hits on the enemy which can be analysed in minute detail after the exercise.

To read more about the cutting-edge battle simulation technologies being used by the Royal Anglians in Kenya, see tomorrow's EDP.