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Reserve Forces & Cadets Association
Northern Ireland


NEWS

NEW CROSS-COUNTRY DRIVER TRAINING AREA COURTESY OF THE ROYAL ENGINEER RESERVES

04 January 2018

591 (AA) Field Squadron recently completed a major construction task – a 2.1 Km cross-country driver training area – on Ballykinler training area in Northern Ireland (NI). The task was completed over four weeks in July and August 2017 and will enable the resident Brigade, 38 (Irish) Brigade, to train a new generation of off-road drivers.

Although a training area had existed for a number of years, there was a clear requirement to upgrade the area – the previous track could only be used as ‘nursery’ for new drivers and units in NI had to send all of their drivers to England to gain the off-road qualifications, which incurred significant travel costs. For approximately 10 years, units in Northern Ireland have been hoping for an upgraded cross-country driver training area in the province, without which they struggled to train their drivers. This summer 591 Field Squadron fully delivered that requirement and units in NI will now be able to deliver off-road driver training in-house, from quadbikes and WMIKs (Weapons Mounted Installation Kits) to SVs (Specialist Vehicles) and CSTs (Close Support Tankers), resulting in a dramatic increase in driver manning and saving the MOD £600-800K in construction costs and between £2-5M in travel and subsistence costs per year.

The training area is the largest construction task 591 Field Squadron has undertaken to date, requiring 9,000T earth, 10,000T stone, 13 pieces of plant and 1,100 man-hours to complete. The training area spans 0.3 km2 and the 2.1km track includes a variety of obstacles including a quarry pit, steep ascent hill and simulated river-bed among others.

Co-Operation

In order to complete the task 591 Field Squadron enlisted the help of a number of units, including local Petroleum Regiment, 152 (NI) Regiment RLC. Tasked with supplying the 10,000 litres of diesel required to run the machines, a CST was sent to refuel vehicles every two days for the whole four weeks. Demonstrating solid co-operation between units, this task also enabled drivers to drive up their machine-hours and combat engineers to cement their training.

Also joining 591 were teams from units within the Regiment, 124 and 102 Field Squadrons, and regular assistance was provided from both 36 and 39 Engineer Regiments. A triumph of regular-reserve integration, this task gave regular POMs significant time on a variety of plant and reservist combat engineers learnt invaluable tips and tricks from their regular counterparts.



Challenges

As with any project, there were issues and challenges to overcome, many minor, but some more serious – a significant amount of stone was needed in a tight schedule, requiring around 14 deliveries a day. So, when the deliveries stopped for a whole day, alarm bells started ringing! Many of the supplier’s drivers were involved in a local parade – a fact they had failed to mention – and deliveries didn’t resume until lunchtime the next day. Thankfully, the delivery company was helpful and the delivery schedule was increased to 20 trucks a day (400 tonnes) narrowly avoiding a shortage of rock. Invariably, the plan always changes a little on the ground, and on one occasion that change meant that the team was short of vital resources: with only a week and a half left, a shortage was identified but the time to delivery was estimated at 2-3 weeks! Thankfully, with a few friendly phone-calls three weeks was turned into four days, and the task was back on track. The weather was also a major factor and the sequence of events was reshuffled several times, most notably (and to the disappointment of the guys) the Rest and Maintenance day was pushed back by two days. Mercifully, the weather report was accurate and the worst of the weather was avoided.

Future Plans

This Cross-Country Driver Training Area is in fact the first of its kind – the only purpose-built training area for off-road, wheeled vehicles in the British Army. Clearly it isn’t just units in Northern Ireland who need to learn to drive and so the plans are being shared with locations across the UK – the hope is that another 2-3 locations will be able to upgrade their training facilities to a similar level.

Summary

This has been one of, if not the biggest task 591 Field Squadron has ever completed, and all members left the task site with a huge sense of achievement. But it couldn’t have been done without the rest of the Regiment, the attached regulars and the willing assistance of 152 Regiment RLC, estate management and the suppliers!