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Exercise Prairie Phoenix: How REME Keep A Fleet Of Tanks Battle Ready

It is the pinnacle of technical training for The Corps of Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers

Armoured and wheeled vehicles take a tough beasting during four months of summer exercises at the British Army Unit in Canada (BATUS) – and that is where Exercise Prairie Phoenix comes in to keep the fleet operational and battle ready before the training begins.

The scale of the task is significant, given that hundreds and hundreds of troops prepare for future deployments at BATUS, putting the fleet through its paces as they train hard in the heat of the Canadian Prairie during the summer exercise season.

The Corps of Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (REME) make sure the vehicles that have taken a battering during the rigors of training are soon back in action - like a phoenix from the flames.

The summer exercises on the rolling Albertan prairies would not happen if it was not for the annual REME repair marathon - repairing all of the kit over the winter, on Exercise Prairie Phoenix.

These videos walk through some of the processes from start to finish on just one of the many, many repairs carried out, from welding and grinding motor parts to getting the vehicle ready to go back out into the field.

Forces Radio BFBS Canada’s Frank McCarthy went behind the scenes to find out more about the operational duties of the exercise.

Watch: Work starts in the BATUS REME workshop 

More than 500 people from across 38 different units in the Field Army have been part of Exercise Prairie Phoenix since the end of August 2018.

Their mission is to preparing the fleet for 20 Brigade and the exercise season at BATUS in 2019.

To put the figures into a better perspective - if there was only a team of 10 people to carry out the job, it would take them 17 years.

In this repair job, Theatre Support Company Packs Platoon removes the power packs from the Warrior and Challenger tanks and AS90 artillery equipment before they are reinstalled.

The engine or power pack is put through its paces on a test bed and it’s really loud, as Reservist SGT Tammy Ruvino tries to explain over the noise  …

The BATUS workshops were built in 1972 and now repair over 1,000 BATUS vehicle fleet including 22 ‘Challenger 2’ tanks, as well as the oldest armoured fleet in the British Army with the 103 Bulldogs and the 112 CVRTs.

Every one of them needs to be up to the high standards expected for the exercise season ahead.

The Warrior and Challengers are brought into the workshop before the work begins.

This workload means that Exercise Prairie Phoenix is an incredible training opportunity for the troops.

Normally in Barracks they would get about 90 hours every 10 weeks of work, but at BATUS that figure increases substantially to 500 to 600 hours of work in the same time period - an excellent technical training opportunity for the REME as a corps.

 

Exercise Prairie Phoenix has serviced and repaired over 220 engines and consumed over 23,000 litres of oil, which is the equivalent of 69,000 cans of coke.

To get a feel of what it's like to be a part of the exercise, Frank was also allowed to drive behind a Warrior on camp - not something that a civvie gets to experience often.

But this has given an insight into what a monumental challenge it is to get the right spare parts in the right place at the right time for so many vehicles.

More than 26,000 spares have been fitted to the vehicle fleet, 65% of which were readily available already thanks to 105 Logistical Support Squadron RLC at BATUS.

And once on the vehicles, they have to be tested.

Forces Radio BFBS Canada joined Major Matt Cary, O.C. BATUS workshops, as a Warrior was road tested ready for training.

Maj Cary, who is on his last Exercise Prairie Phoenix as he’s posted in July, was first at BATUS in 2003, as a young officer cadet getting a flavour of workshop life and the level of engineering.

It was all part of a recruitment drive to show what REME soldiers are capable of, hence why he joined the REME.

He will then be posted to Sandhurst to identify the next generation of young potential officers for the REME.

Maj Cary, speaking of the road test as the Warrior was put through its paces, said:

"This is the culmination of 26 weeks of inspect and repair in preparation for Exercise Prairie Storm 1."

Exercise Prairie Phoenix is all about fixing the majority of the big stuff; whether it’s a Challenger Tank, a Titan, Trojan, AS90 or a Warrior and everything needs to be tested including the brakes…

Lt/Col Toby Lambert, who is at BATUS for his 10th time, and is Commanding Officer of 3 Armoured Close Support Btn REME, as well as the Commander of Exercise Prairie Phoenix, delivered a message for all those involved in the exercise.

He said: "What you have achieved is absolutely outstanding - 8,000 miles from home, in temperatures as low as minus 40 degrees, you have completed 100,000 hours of work to a thousand vehicles on the road, ready for 20 Armoured Infantry Brigade's training.

"You've certainly done your bit to put the punch in the iron fist of the iron division and for all your astounding achievements, I'd like to say a huge thank you to you all."

 

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