Army

Exercise Khanjar Oman: British soldiers put to the test in the Omani heat

Watch: UK troops train in Oman's hot and dusty desert on Exercise Khanjar.

Soldiers have put their desert combat skills to the test in the hot, dusty conditions of Oman.

Exercise Khanjar Oman gave around 1,000 British Army troops – some of whom had never been to the desert – the chance to pick up new skills and train alongside Omani forces.

Training took place in the Ras Madrakah training area which is around 4,000 sq km – so big, every training area in the UK could fit inside it.

Lieutenant Colonel John Dunn, Commanding Officer, 2 SCOTS Battlegroup, Ex Khanjar Oman, said: "We've had soldiers fresh out of Catterick and we've taken the training slow but steady, working from the individual skills up through troop and platoon through to company and, finally, operating as a battlegroup.

"Equally, it allows us to work with our partners – the western border security force from the Royal Army of Oman – and we've learned a lot from them about operating in the desert, how to operate off vehicles which is a new experience for us."

He explained how they had learned and sharpened many different skills.

"Simple things like navigation, how do you get around in a relatively featureless terrain, operating in such a way that you don't degrade too quickly, so getting good shade up, how do you manage your water, your food," he said.

Lieutenant Harry Brooks, 29 Commando Regiment Royal Artillery told Forces News about the value of the live firing exercises.

He said: "Traditionally a gun battery would have six guns, you see here we're operating with three. That allows us to be more mobile. We can move the gun battery around and deliver effects as needed in a more mobile sense.

"We have a three-and-a-half-minute window from firing the guns to then having to move off position which is a pretty unique way of operating within the Royal Artillery.

"The live firing is, of course, where we get a huge amount of training value. We get to make things go bang and that is part and parcel of being in the Royal Artillery," he added.

1 LANCS, based in Cyprus as the regional standby battalion, were in Oman to test their readiness.

Kingsman Samuel Reynolds, Anzio Company, 1st Battalion The Duke of Lancaster's Regiment, said: "We've come out here to attach onto 2 SCOTS and also the Omani Army and we're working on attacking an urban village, working an urban environment."

There will be two British Army Battlegroups deployed there twice a year going forward.

Why Oman matters to Britain's forces

Oman, known by some as the Pearl of Arabia, is seen as a regional power balancer – 'the Switzerland of the Middle East' – able to remain on good terms with both Saudi Arabia and Iran, while also aiding peace negotiation in neighbouring Yemen.

UK forces have trained and, at times, fought in the country for decades.

Lieutenant General Sir Ralph Wooddisse, Commander Field Army, explained: "This is probably our strongest relationship in the region, if not the world, in many respects.

"My father fought with the Omani Army in the 1960s and I've been coming backwards and forwards to Oman throughout my career and that is, I think, representative of the strength of the relationship between our two nations."

Watch: Why the UK military is heavily invested in Oman.

The relationship could be set to deepen, with Britain investing millions through the construction of a logistics base – part of the Ministry of Defence's new network of global hubs.

Oman lies in the south-eastern corner of the Arabian Peninsula – a key strategic position that has made it an important partner for global powers like Britain for centuries.

The country's 2,000 miles of coastline runs from the Indian Ocean in the southwest to the Gulf of Oman in the north, where it overlooks the Strait of Hormuz and the vital oil routes to and from the Gulf. 

Lt Gen Wooddisse added: "The Middle East is still a really important part of the world for us and, indeed, the world.

"We are heavily invested in the Middle East and will continue to be so."

In 2017, a deal was signed, allowing the Royal Navy access to the port of Duqm – 350 miles south of Muscat.

Oman is investing $10bn in building a deep-water facility there, an international airport and the biggest economic zone in the Middle East. 

The land regional hub is already home to a contingent of British forces, from mechanics to medics.

UK soldiers sharpen their firing skills in Oman's arid desert.
UK forces have trained and, at times, fought in Oman for decades.

Reservist Private Amardeep Shergill, 237 Supply Squadron, 159 Regt Royal Logistic Corps, supplies the troops with everything from clothing to tyres.

He said: "Being able to be put in a new group of people on each exercise and leaving the country with a new set of people every time, opens you up to be a bit more vocal and being able to talk to a vast group of people.

"It just helps you as an individual, both on civvy street and within your military career, to be able to push yourself forward."

Twenty-five-year-old Private Dominic Sinfield, 7 Regiment Royal Logistic Corps, joined the Army three years ago and is one of the tanker drivers keeping the battlegroup fuelled. 

"It's very different from the UK. Getting used to the roads is one big one, driving on the opposite side, going round the roundabouts the opposite way, that takes a bit of getting used to," he said.

The vast joint training area there covers 1,500 square miles.

With UK troops now going there more frequently, they have built a full-size medical centre at Duqm. They also operate a medevac helicopter, with Omani pilots flying British military medics. 

Wing Commander Dr Nat Lonsdale, Medical Emergency Response Team doctor, told Forces News: "From a medical point of view, the more and more troops we have out here, the more the real-life support and the evac capability will need to expand.

"At the moment, we have a number of troops that are way out on the range – they provide the real-life support and the evacuation of the lower level casualties back to the medical centre.

"You have medics, nurses and doctors at the med centre as well," she added.

The hub at Duqm is the first permanent British base there since 1971 – evidence of just how important the UK believes the relationship and the regional mediator remains.