Puma takes off behind Challenger 2 Saif Sareea 3
Exercises

British Troops Begin Omani Exercise In 'Absolutely Insane' Environment

Exercise Saif Sareea 3 officially began on Friday.

Puma takes off behind Challenger 2 Saif Sareea 3

The exercise began on Friday (Picture: PA).

British soldiers deployed on the UK's biggest military exercise for almost two decades have said they are relishing the challenge of Oman's searing heat and dusty, austere desert.

Exercise Saif Sareea 3 officially began on October 5 and will see around 5,500 UK personnel and 65,000 of their Omani counterparts take part over the coming month.

RAF Typhoon aircraft arrived in Oman last week, with HMS Albion docking in the country on Thursday.

The extreme desert heat can hit soldiers and their weapons alike, while dust can cripple even the most expensive high-tech kit, a problem graphically illustrated during Saif Sareea 2 in 2001.

Royal Tank Regiment Captain Will Baker, who is deployed on the £100 million tri-service training exercise, said the Challenger 2 battle tanks are coping well in the conditions.

Typhoon Oman
British aircraft arrived last week in Oman (Picture: Crown Copyright).

The 26-year-old Captain said: "You have got to nurture them through, this is an absolutely insane environment.

"You have got all the dust, so there will be minor problems.

"But in terms of catastrophic failures, we have not had that many, it is more about a bit of TLC, knowing when to stop and clear the filters."

On his first overseas deployment on a large exercise, he said he is looking forward to working with his Omani colleagues.

"The Challenger Two is obviously a British tank, they [Oman] are the only other country that uses it.

"So what we want to give to them is our little skills and drills," he added.

"Hopefully they can reciprocate and show us how to operate in this environment and their tactics... it is a wide-open terrain, it is difficult to sneak a battlegroup around."

Could this be the future of the Challenger 2?

Asked whether he thinks the experience of Saif Sareea 3 is beneficial, Capt Baker said it "absolutely is".

"If nothing else it is one hell of a life experience, coming out to the desert for six weeks operating on a tank with your mates, this is what it is about," he added.

Capt Baker was speaking after a manoeuvre involving B Company from the 1st Battalion, the Mercian Regiment, which the Royal Tank Regiment are operating alongside.

Over the next four weeks, more than 18 Challenger 2 battle tanks and 61 Warrior armoured vehicles will feature in the exercise, culminating in a live fire demonstration next month.

Corporal Tim Rogocake, who is from Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers that is attached to 1 Mercian, said so far his deployment has "had its ups and downs".

HMS Albion Oman
HMS Albion will lead the naval element of Exercise Saif Sareea (Picture: Crown Copyright).

"It is a bit difficult with the kit, obviously with the heat and the dust, it is a new environment for us," he said.

"But you just have to adapt and go forward."

He revealed that alongside the heat acclimatisation they undertook on arriving in Oman, they have been looking to carry out repairs or their work during the cooler hours.

Sergeant Robert "Coops" Cooper, of B Company 1 Mercian, said he has seen the temperature rise to 47c during the time he has been in Oman.

He said the Warrior armoured vehicles he operates in are "doing well", but that the "dust is horrendous".

Once stopped, soldiers could often be seen brushing large gatherings of orange-tinted dust off the vehicles, with Sgt Cooper revealing the filters on the Warriors do get clogged up with it.

Asked whether he thinks the exercise is important, he said it is, otherwise there becomes a "skill fade" issue, adding: "When else would we operate in this environment?"

His colleague Sergeant Darren Thomas, 32, from Cannock, Staffordshire said they have proven they can operate on Salisbury Plain and Canada, but added:

"We want to see if we can do what we do out in one of the worst or harshest environments that there is."