Challenging The Challenger 2: The British Army On Exercise In Oman

The Royal Tank Regiment have been testing their skills in the desert during Exercise Saif Sareea 3 in Oman.

Personnel from the Royal Tank Regiment have been testing their skills in the Omani desert, as part of Exercise Saif Sareea 3.

The exercise has been years in the planning and is the UK's biggest military exercise for almost 20 years.

Around 5,500 UK personnel from across the three services are in south Oman with 65,000 of their Omani counterparts.

The tri-service exercise is being carried out at various parts of the country.

Lisa Hartle joined the Royal Tank Regiment at their purpose-built service station in the desert.

Situated in the expansive Omani desert, the Convoy Support Centre (or CSC as the military personnel call it) is a place where military vehicles and personnel can refuel, sleep and eat before continuing on with their exercise.

When I visited the Royal Tank Regiment at the CSC they were there refuelling and recharging after weeks crossing the desert in their Challenger 2 battle tanks.

"First phase we were working with the One Mercian Battlegroup doing offensive actions, defensive actions and just normal tank bread and butter tank stuff," Lieutenant Thomas Chapman explained to me. 

"We then had a short break where we got to do some adventure training which was fantastic and then now we are preparing for the firepower demonstration which will be working with the Omanis which we are very much looking forward to."

Omani troops on their Challenger 2 tanks.
Around 65,000 Omani troops are involved in the exercise.

Oman is the only other country aside from the UK to use the Challenger 2. The tanks are set to be upgraded within the British Army with two contractors submitting prototypes to the Ministry of Defence.

The exercise has allowed both countries to learn from one another such as how to operate in such extreme conditions.

I watched the Omani Royal Tank Regiment in the desert as they carried out a live-fire exercise and during a short break I spoke to Colonel Abdullah Salim Al-Kalbani, who explained how the exercise has allowed both countries to exchange operation experience:

"Working with the British Army means working with the land forces together," he explained.

"Our target is to improve our skills and improve our experience because the British Army are very experienced on operations and on training and we are learning from them.

"The British Army can learn from us, how to work in the hot weather and different terrains and get used to the weather in Oman so it can help them to operate in similar areas, in similar weather."

Britain-Oman connection.
The UK and Oman are looking to improve their respective skills by working alongside each other.

Second Lieutenant Asad Said Al Busaidi trained at Sandhurst before returning to the Oman forces, with the exercise his first as a Troop Leader after completing the course.

"I'm very happy to get the chance to be on this exercise," he said.

"And it's very useful for me to be with the British Army also, working in our terrains, our weathers and with our tanks and to see their abilities and our experience, increasing our skills."

Lieutenant Colonel Paul Maynard took part in the last Exercise Saif Sareea in 2001.

The extreme conditions in the south Oman desert are putting the Challenger 2 battle tanks to the test. 

A far cry from the training carried out on Salisbury Plain - this austere environment brings with it a whole new set of challenges.

In preparation for the training exercise the British Army Challenger 2 battle tanks underwent some adaptations to ensure the dust and sand from the desert do not cause problems for the vehicles.  The adaptations include side panels to minimise the dust that can reach the running gear.

Challenger 2 battle tanks will be upgraded in the British Army
Challenger 2 battle tanks will be upgraded in the British Army.

Its been almost 20 years years since Exercise Saif Sareea 2, so for many, this is the first time they have been on exercise in such conditions.

Sergeant Michelle Louise Curran, who is an armourer in the Royal Tank Regiment, said the exercise has allowed her to put her skills to the test.

"It's been different that's for sure but it has been a massive opportunity to be able to test my skill and ability in different environments, working with different problems i.e. the dust, the sand getting in the turret.

"But all in all it has been absolutely fantastic."

Step inside the 75 square-metre medical facility that is part of Saif Sareea.

Trooper William Payne, driving a tank in the desert couldn't more different to his usual life back in the UK.

"The other day we were hitting speeds of 60km an hour, which for a beast weighing about 70 tonnes is impressive," he told me. 

"Back home I drive a Vauxhall Corsa so going from driving a Corsa to coming out here and being able to go over things that are two metres high, to going down ditches to hitting rocks at any speed, it's quite a difference."

Temperatures inside the Challenger 2 can be more than 50 degrees.
Temperatures inside the Challenger 2 can be more than 50 degrees.

For others, the temperatures have been the biggest shock.

Outside temperatures soar over 40 degrees, but inside the tanks that can go over a scorching 50 degrees. 

To Trooper Fraser Stewart's surprise, he's coped just fine with the heat. He said: "Before we got out here, I'm ginger Scottish so whenever I've been on holiday I used to hate the heat.

"So I was like it's going to be bloody roasting!

"But then I've been one of the best out of my troop to deal with the heat, which was surprising."

Training in the heat - Lance Bombardier Stephen Lawrence talks us through how personnel keep up their training in the desert.

Trooper Stewart pointed out another big difference is the hours they work: "You'll be working all the time back home but here you have to take your heat breaks from like 11 till 3 or something like that because it's too hot to do work."

Over 18 Challenger 2 battle tanks and 61 Warrior armoured vehicles are featuring in the exercise culminating in a tri-service live power demonstration marking the end of Exercise Saif Sareea 3.