Exercise PRAIRIE STORM (Ex PS), formerly named Exercise MED MAN for the slightly older reader, is held at the British Army Training Unit Suffield (BATUS) in Alberta, Canada, the centre of excellence for all armoured training. The exercise area is larger than the county of Gloucestershire and allows the exercising units to conduct training, including live-firing, on a much larger scale than is possible in the UK.
The main aim of BATUS is to assess whether Battlegroups (BG) are fit to deploy on operations. Not only are the BG headquarters and Rifle Companies being assessed but also the attached arms: Engineers, Artillery and Cavalry.
The Royal Regiment of Fusiliers Battlegroup deployed to BATUS in early June to take over the Warrior Infantry Fighting Vehicles and prepare them for the upcoming 37 day exercise. I was fortunate to command 12 Platoon in Zulu Company for the duration of the exercise.
After working hard on the Warriors, the BG were rewarded with a weekend off to relax before the long exercise. It also allowed individuals time to explore small parts of North America and buy the essentials that make 'life on the Prairie' slightly more comfortable.
We were soon rolling out the gates in an impressive armoured column heading north on the Rattlesnake ready to start the exercise with the live fire phase. To try to offer some perspective on the size of the training area, the move from camp to our first range was 50 Km. In true armoured fashion the move took an impressively long time as, unsurprisingly, the 30 year old Warriors stopped more often than might be hoped for.
The whole exercise was broken down into different smaller exercises. Zulu Company started with Sub-unit live-fire tactical training (LFTT), followed by sub-unit dry training, Battlegroup live fire and the final (TES) testing exercise.
The live fire tactical training (LFTT) offered a well-balanced mix of light role, armoured and integrated ranges. The Company went through a detailed progression from single vehicles and a sections live firing up to Company integrated night attacks. The highlight of the range package was the Company dismounted attack, which also incorporated a river crossing. The enemy (targets) were conveniently placed all the way up the ridge line to the highest feature in the immediate area, proving that the Prairie is most definitely not flat. After the tired Company reached the summit they were rewarded with a withdrawal back down the ridge line and cooled down with a river crossing.
After the sub-unit LFTT we moved onto our sub-unit BCS dry training. Although poorly timed it enabled us to rectify issues highlighted during the LFTT and allowed us time to sharpen our skills and drills before moving onto the Battlegroup live fire phase. This consisted of numerous advance to contacts covering upwards of 30 km a day, fighting through complex obstacles, working closely with all aspects of the Battlegroup and gelling as a team before the tactical dry phase of the exercise.
Finally we arrived at the tactical phase of the exercise. We were now up against a free thinking peer plus enemy played by the Royal Dragoon Guards and a rifle company from 5 Rifles. The RRF Battlegroup passed validation after only three missions. This allowed both the exercising troops and the enemy extra time in which they could try new tactics to enhance traditional doctrine. Towards the end of the exercise the objectives became increasingly complex with a blend of regular and irregular enemy forces, a CBRN and IED threat, a hostile non-English speaking civilian population and an ever-present media. This enabled all parts of the BG to be tested and train for the next conflict.
My overall impression of the exercise was that it was long and the terrain and temperature were challenging but, like the BATUS Warriors, I would not be averse to trundling out onto the Prairie again.