With a barrage of ear-shattering bangs, the British Army showed off the full array of firepower it has at its disposal during a Land Combat Power Display on Salisbury Plain last week. Report by Danny Chapman.

The procession of explosions created at the display were provided by a whole range of military weapons and equipment and, during a twenty minute finale when each piece of kit was shown working in unison to attack a pretend enemy compound in the distance, there was no doubt that the British Army packs a serious punch and that no enemy, pretend or not, was coming out of there alive.

The display was conducted by the 3rd Battalion (Staffords) The Mercian Regiment (3 MERCIAN) with support from Royal Engineers and Royal Artillery. 3 MERCIAN are currently the Land Warfare Centre Battle Group who assist and support the training of all Army units on Salisbury Plain Training Area.

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The primary aim of the display was to help educate recently promoted majors in the Army who are currently attending the Intermediate Command and Staff Course at the Defence Academy.

It is a major who leads a battalion on the battlefield and, by attending the Land Combat Power Display, they can develop an understanding of how a Land formation is deployed to achieve full operational effect and see the full range of support they have at their disposal.

Around 400 majors on the Staff Course attended the display last Thursday, 2 April 2009, including Major Darren Cook, who also happens to be from 3 MERCIAN. He said:

“We’re moving onto the operations phase of the Staff Course and the planning of operations. This display is really good in terms of understanding what we have and allows us to put into context what resources we have.”

As well as the main display of firepower itself, numerous vehicles, weapons and other resources such as Explosive and Ordnance Disposal teams, available to commanders on operations were shown in a static display where the majors could walk around and talk to soldiers with experience of operating them. Major Cook continued:

“The course builds on our experience. All majors here have at least nine years experience in the Army and have all been to Iraq or Afghanistan.

“I’ve not been to Afghanistan so I’m particularly interested in seeing the kit that’s operating out there. I particularly thought the Mastiff was good. I’ve not seen it before as it doesn’t operate in Iraq where I have deployed, so it stood out for me.”

Next to the Mastiff was the new Ridgback vehicle which is due to be deployed to Afghanistan later in 2009. Trooper James Hawley from the Household Cavalry who worked alongside the Mastiff in Afghanistan, described the Ridgback:

“It’s a new variant on the Mastiff. It’s exactly the same as the Mastiff just smaller which allows more manoeuvrability. It’s an Armoured Personnel Carrier for dropping troops off as close to the fighting as possible. It’s also mine proven.”

Trooper Hawley was deployed to Helmand last year where he went out on reconnaissance patrols for up to three weeks at a time using Jackal vehicles, also on display. He added:

“The Jackal is an awesome bit of kit. The speed and ground you can cover makes it ideal for reconnaissance. You can only have so much protection before you loose manoeuvrability but they do offer a lot of protection.”

The Land Combat Power Display is not just for majors on the Staff Course. Lieutenant Colonel Richard Spiby, the Commanding Officer of 3 MERCIAN, explained:

“The course is designed for majors on promotion to show them all the equipment in the British Army, but there are also Cadet Forces here, people from Defence Industry and across the MOD. It’s important that people know how all the things come together.”

After time looking around the static display, the visitors – which numbered 1,500 – made their way to a grandstand overlooking a swathe of countryside with the odd rusty tank or car and a couple of compounds on a ridge in the distance.

In a surreal show reminiscent of a Royal Tournament each element of a Battle Group was brought out individually as a running audio commentary described its uses and firepower, before treating the crowd to a practical demonstration using live (and very loud) ammunition.

An Infantry Dismounted section was first up where the eight-man unit stood on a small stage in front of the main firing area and showed off the individual soldier’s range of personal kit, from Osprey Body Armour, Personal Role Radios and SA80 A2 Rifles, to General Purpose Machine Guns and Light Machine Guns. The unit then ran into trenches and gave its audience a display of how it uses its weapons to suppress enemy activity.

Next up were snipers with their L115A3 Long Range Rifle – “The best in the world” claimed the commentator – before support weapons were displayed and the bangs started getting louder. A Jackal-mounted Heavy Machine Gun sent bright orange flashes across the countryside as the bullets flew and mortar and Javelin teams showed the crowd what could be achieved with some metal tubes carried on soldiers’ backs.

The Javelin was especially impressive. Its mini, very dangerous, and state-of-the-art-looking missile, rose into the air and seemed to hover slightly before darting across the landscape, hitting its target bang on and destroying it completely.

With Guns N’ Roses music coming from loud speakers in the grandstand, out came the Armoured Fighting Vehicles. Skidding around in the gravel with their drivers encased within their heavily armoured bodies so that no human presence was visible, the vehicles looked like Transformers from another planet as their gun turrets menacingly surveyed the audience and the undercarriages danced around in a mechanical ballet.

One by one out came the Scimitar reconnaissance vehicle, the Warrior Infantry Fighting vehicle – speeding into the frame and quickly delivering it’s soldiers to the scene of battle, and finally, the demonic Challenger 2 Main Battle Tank – spewing black smoke as it moved into position and began a fearful assault on the surrounding hills with its 120mm gun.

The weird and wonderful Engineering and Logistics vehicles followed, including the huge Titan bridge-laying vehicle, the dinosaur-like Trojan with its excavator arm, dozer blade and mine plough allowing it to breach obstacles, and the Python whose dragon-like launcher lit up a trail of flames to neutralise minefields.

Finally, to the music of 80s TV show Airwolf, an Apache attack helicopter descended in front of the grandstand before most of the audience jumped out their skins as a Tornado jet screeched across the skies from behind, dropping its explosive payload onto the hills and sending shock waves heavenwards.

The combined use of all this equipment during the final live ammunition “attack” on enemy compounds was ferocious and frightening, as well as deafening!