Top of main content

Urban warfare exercise at Swindon sewage works

Wednesday 2nd October 2019 12:00

Lt Col Sam Cooke and Captain Aaron Thompson at Swindon sewage works

More than 100 soldiers have been taking part in a major urban warfare exercise at Swindon Sewage Works.

Exercise Iron Viper at the Thames Water site in Barnfield Road involves the Royal Logistic Corps with support from the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers and the Royal Army Medical Corps.

The army chose the site, which serves 200,000 people in Swindon and surrounding areas, because it provides a mix of real-world industrial, urban and rural buildings and locations from which to hone its skills.

The two-week exercise, which ends on October 3, has not impacted on the day-to-day operation of the sewage works which recently underwent a £17 million upgrade to meet new treatment standards, a move which has also boosted the quality of water discharged into the nearby River Ray.

Michael Sheppard, site manager at Swindon Sewage Works, said: “Having the Royal Logistic Corps on site has really livened up the last couple of weeks. It’s interesting to see how quickly they can deploy equipment to set up a fully operational site with a headquarters and communications hub in just a couple of days, as well as the ingenious ways they camouflage their vehicles and assets.

“Although some people might have noticed soldiers at the gate, or military trucks driving in and out of the site, our own efficiency, organisation and dedication means that we have been able to work alongside the army without any disruption in service to our customers, and shows our commitment to work with our armed services and communities with great success.”

The exercise comes as Thames Water joined other leading energy and utilities employers in signing the Armed Forces Covenant which forms part of the company’s wider strategy on recruiting former service men and women, who often have skills relevant to the water industry such as engineering, leadership and incident management.

Exercise Iron Viper tests the army’s ability and readiness to supply troops on a fictional frontline with everything they need, from ammunition and food, to fuel and vehicles – although no real ammo is used.

It’s also been an opportunity to perfect the art of urban camouflage. Rather than using traditional ‘camo netting’, the soldiers have used whatever might be available in a city setting, from pallets to disguise armoured vehicles to covering communication tents with tarpaulins and tyres.

Green army trucks have also been made to look like shipping lorries, complete with fake livery and special paint that can be peeled off. Other shipping containers with images of cars on the top hide command and control centres or living quarters.

From an enemy spy plane or drone, the area would look like a typical industrial estate or car park - not a secret army base. Top brass say publicising this smoke-and-mirrors deception is actually more of a hindrance than a help for the enemy because in a real-life situation they would have to double their efforts to locate it.

Lt Col Sam Cooke, commanding officer, 3 Regiment, Royal Logistic Corp, said: “The site is fantastic. It’s got some really good security which helps us do some of the experimentation we’re doing here.

“Equally there’s a really good mix of industrial, urban and rural location which allows us to test all sorts of different ways we can camouflage, conceal and use active deception which is a wonderful way to practice how we do our business in reality.

“It’s been a stunning success. We have been made to feel hugely welcome at this site. It’s felt like a really comfortable place to operate and it’s given us exactly the right challenge we need in order to conduct our operations.”