Soldiers in Northumberland have been testing their ability to defend the crucial supplies that support the frontline.
5 Regiment of the Royal Logistic Corps has been given nine anti-tank missiles, 10% of the Army’s annual allocation, to use for Exercise Iron Python.
“I think we’ve been really lucky this year, securing these live NLAW (Main Battle Tank and Light Anti-tank Weapon)," Major John Green told Forces News.
“It’s something really unusual for RLC units and the soldiers under training are really looking forward to the opportunity to test the skills they’ve learnt back in camp in a live scenario."
The weapons system has two different attack modes.
One is the direct mode which can be used to fire straight ahead at the side of a tank.
A second which is described as an “overhead top attack mode", which allows the missile to be fired slightly above the tank before landing on the top of the vehicle where it is usually softer.
Army technicians are also on site to analyse each missile’s performance.
“We’re looking to see that the missile goes down range and hits the target and functions as intended,” explains Major Justin Paull, who works as part of the International Guns and Missiles Project Team.
“And we’re also here to assist if anything should go wrong with the missile system,” he adds.
“Not that we’re planning for that to happen and the missile system has a very good serviceability rate, so that shouldn’t be happening at all.”
But Exercise Iron Python is not just about firing missiles; 65 miles to the south of Otterburn, Northumberland lies the seaside town of Hartlepool.
Normally a busy shipping hub, recently part of it has been taken over by the Royal Logistic Corps as it tests the capability of its troops to respond in a civilian environment.
In a combat situation, 101 Logistic Brigade - also known as the Iron Vipers - are tasked with keeping soldiers stocked with everything they need to fight, whether that is food, ammunition or a spare tank part.
It follows an exercise which took place in Leicestershire earlier this month, called Talon Python, involving Apache and Wildcat helicopters.
“Exercise Iron Python is the first major 101 Logistic Brigade exercise we’ve taken for a number of years,” Lieutenant Colonel Craig Hanson, Commanding Officer of 4 Regiment Royal Logistic Corps, told Forces News.
“This is aiming to test the end to end logistics, so it’s not just what happens in the front end but what happens all the way back.
“The idea is for us to understand the scale and complexity it takes us to move all of the stores, all of the requirements for our fighting soldiers, to ensure that we can support them in times of war.”
During a war, supplies would come into the port and be stored there; then when the order arrives, the general support squadron loads it up, drive it out, transfer it to the close support squadron under cover of darkness, who would then deliver it to the frontline.
The receiving troops are known as the customer.
“So you’ve got two sorts,” explains Warrant Officer Class 2 Alan Hobbs.
“You’ve got ES – which is Equipment Spares – so they’re normally in engine assemblies. Then you’ve got what you call the General Supply, GS equipment, which means that will go to a customer and then it would get consumed and used daily.”
For his part, WO2 Hobbs is in no doubt about the importance of his work:
“We’re the heartbeat of the British Army… Without us, we haven’t got anything really.”
To keep the exercise as realistic as possible, local residents and businesses have allowed the Army to blend into the background of the town.
“We’ve really tried to innovate… and put ourselves where we would expect to be operating in war,” says Lieutenant Colonel Hanson.
“That is not on a military training area, that’s not in a wood bloc. That’s actually in the urban fringes. That's operating amongst a normal population to ensure that we can do this.
“It’s been difficult, it’s been interesting, we have some fairly large vehicles that are driving through the centre of Middlesbrough on a daily basis… When we’re just driving around our own training areas, we don’t get stuck in traffic, we don’t have people cutting us up.
“We don’t have all the different frictions that have been so good and allowed us to really professionalise ourselves and quick deliver our core role.”