Bloodhound SSC: Inspiring the next generation of Engineers Pt 2

Major Oli Morgan is the Team Leader for the Army’s involvement in the Bloodhound SuperSonic Car project

Major Oli Morgan is the Team Leader for the Army’s involvement in the Bloodhound SuperSonic Car project

Major Oli Morgan is the Team Leader for the Army’s involvement in the Bloodhound SuperSonic Car project.  As an Aircraft Engineering Officer in the Royal Electrical & Mechanical Engineers (REME), his technical background on Apache is used to good effect to provide the Bloodhound team with technical advice on Engineering Assurance. In addition to his engineering role, he is also responsible for recruiting each six-month attachment of personnel and managing the team on a day-to-day basis.

Opening Bloodhound SSC’s Technical Centre

This summer Minister for Universities and Science, David Willetts MP, formally opened the new Bloodhound Technical Centre in Avonmouth, Bristol. It was a fantastic event with the Minister talking about the importance of UK skills and the increasing demand for Scientists, Engineers and Mathematicians.

REME Corporal Lisah Brooking keeping a keen eye on Minister David Willetts MP. Image by Stephan Marjoram

REME Corporal Lisah Brooking keeping a keen eye on Minister David Willetts MP. Image by Stephan Marjoram

And it’s this challenge that Bloodhound SSC intends to tackle – to inspire kids into STEM subjects by building a car capable of 1000 mph and allowing the student population to be able to engage and follow the project.

Bloodhound SSC’s new technical centre has been occupied for a few months while the team have been commissioning the site and getting all the workshop machines ready to go. The new centre looks impressive and provides the design team as well build engineers/fabricators with a great facility in which we will build the car. A special mention must go to SSgt Neil Gallagher who received a commendation from Director Richard Noble for his part in managing the move to the new Avonmouth site.

SSgt Neil Gallagher with his commendation. Image by Stefan Marjoram

SSgt Neil Gallagher with his commendation. Image by Stefan Marjora

SSgt Gallagher got permission to extend his attachment by 2 months to see the move through to completion. He has since handed over to his successor SSgt Ben Richards who continues the role of Workshop Manager supporting Chris Dee (Build Manager) to ensure the machines are fit and are available at all times.

Introducing the new REME team

SSgt Ben Richards. Image Stefan Marjoram

SSgt Ben Richards. Image Stefan Marjoram

The composition of the second team of REME tradesmen has developed to reflect the changes and demands of the build as it continues. As we move into the assembly of the rear upper chassis, SSgt Ben Richards’ experience repairing aircraft on Operations comes to the fore. He has been helping to build the chassis rails that connect the carbon fibre monocoque to the rear lower chassis.

Ssgt Henry Breed. Image Stefan Marjoram

Ssgt Henry Breed. Image Stefan Marjoram

SSgt Ben Richards is one of two Artificers on the Army team. Artificers are the REME’s technical fast track managers and are amongst the most respected soldiers in the British Army. Alongside Ben, is SSgt Henry ‘H’ Breed who is an Electronics Artificer and works with Joe Holdsworth on the Bloodhound’s electronic control systems. He has continued AQMS Mark Edwin’s work prototyping EJ200’s control system as well as developing the electronics of a number control systems.

On the mechanical side of the project, Corporal Lisah Brooking has been working with Lee Giles on the rocket development system. She has done a fantastic job and has developed her technical knowledge testing the F1 engine’s custom gearbox at X-trac near Reading.

LCpl Lisah Brooking. Image Stefan Marjoram

LCpl Lisah Brooking. Image Stefan Marjoram

The last member of the team – and certainly not least, is Craftsman Andy Pike who is an Armourer and the youngest engineer on the whole project. Cfn Pike is normally found working in patrol bases repairing weapon systems with the Infantry. He has used his technical knowledge and manufacture skills to support some of the more senior fabricators assembling the car.

Cfn Andy Pike. Image Stefan Marjoram

Cfn Andy Pike. Image Stefan Marjoram

Project update…the build story so far

So what is happening with the vehicle build at the moment? We have been lucky that we could continue building the car whilst the building has been commissioned.

All of the workshop machines supplied under Bloodhound contract with the Army have been delivered (thanks SEAE and SEME) and the machine shop is now ready to start production of smaller components. The machine shop, with lathes, mills, folding and cutting machines, to mention a few, is an important addition to the Technical Centre. It will save time and provide agility when essential components are needed that can’t be sent to suppliers.

Positioned in the centre of the workshop, not far from the machine shop, is a huge surface table that the Bloodhound SSC car will be built on. So why do we need to build it on a metal surface 30 cm off the ground?

Surface table. Image Stefan Marjoram

Surface table. Image Stefan Marjoram

We need an incredibly flat surface to build on to ensure that we can accurately measure the car as it is assembled – you wouldn’t want us to put it together wonky! Dan Johns, who has spent much of his career working with Airbus as a Manufacturing Engineer is using a laser scanning system to ensure that the car’s components are placed as accurately as possible in the X, Y and Z axis. David Willetts MP had the honour of tightening up the bolts that connect the lower chassis and monocoque together – all under the watchful eye of Cpl Lisah Brooking!

The most recent work has been the arrival of the chassis rails which have come back from the autoclave and are now fitted to the car. The fabrication team have done a great job, delivering ahead of time to assemble, Kephos (black anti corrosion paint), re-assemble/glue and cure – and with an accuracy of 0.4 mm variation over 6 metres.

So what’s coming next?

Bloodhound cuttaway. Image Stefan Marjoram

Bloodhound cuttaway. Image Stefan Marjoram

The lattice structure on the side of the car (where the red dot is) has been dry assembled to ensure that all of the resources required to complete the work package are ready to go. The combination of the chassis rails (green dot at either end) and the lattice will provide increased stiffness to the body of the car – in a similar way to that of a bridge.

Infantry bridge. Crown copyright

Infantry bridge. Crown copyright

Chassis rails and lattice. Image Jules Tipler

Chassis rails and lattice. Image Jules Tipler

Now that Dan Johns has laser scanned and measured the mating surfaces, we have the assurance that we will be building on an accurate and level plane which means that the jig can be made available to start to receive the initial sections of the upper chassis which has been designed similar to the construction of an aircraft. Within this structure, the EJ200 developmental engine will be suspended beneath the structure, with the fin supported on top!

The upper chassis is going to be a big job with over 11,000 holes to drill, prepare and rivet – I will keep you updated when the job starts and how it progresses.

Next blog I will be writing about the REME team and our time at Goodwood Festival of Speed talking to kids about engineering and science and Bloodhound SSC!

Read more about the Bloodhound Supersonic Car

Yes Minister! REME team forges ahead with 1000mph car project

Major Oli Morgan is the Team Leader for the Army’s involvement in the Bloodhound Super Sonic Car project.  As an Aircraft Engineering Officer in the Royal Electrical & Mechanical Engineers, his technical background on Apache is used to good effect to provide the Bloodhound team with technical advice on Engineering Assurance. In addition to his engineering role he is also responsible for recruiting each 6 month attachment of personnel and managing the team on a day to day basis.

Defence Minister visits

It was great to see the Minister for Defence Equipment Support and Technology last week at the Bloodhound SSC Technical Centre in Bristol. Philip Dunne MP visited the Army Team from the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (REME) working on Bloodhound SSC to see what we had been doing since we saw him at the signing of the MoD-Bloodhound Concordat in Oct 2012.

Minister was impressed how we had integrated into the civilian team building the 1000 mph car and the ground breaking work the guys had been doing. I took the Minister around the workshop to allow each of the REME team to explain their role and what they had achieved during their attachment, which is fast coming to an end in March 13 (Details of the new team coming soon).

Left to Right: Philip Dunne MP, Cfn Rob Fenn, WO2 (AQMS) MarkEdwin, Maj Oli Morgan. Image by Stefan Marjoram

Left to Right: Philip Dunne MP, Cfn Rob Fenn, WO2 (AQMS) Mark Edwin, Maj Oli Morgan. Image by Stefan Marjoram

Craftsman Rob Fenn, our most junior tradesman (his rank is equivalent to Private Soldier), showed Philip Dunne MP the work that been done on the Super Sonic car’s lower chassis. Cfn Fenn has been part of a small group building this section of the car and he has also had the opportunity to work with Lee Giles, a very experienced mechanic formerly at McLaren R&D. The Minister was impressed by how much exposure Cfn Fenn had to wider engineering and his goal to work towards a Degree in Automotive Engineering.

Cfn Rob Fenn working with Lee Giles. Image by Stefan Marjoram

Cfn Rob Fenn working with Lee Giles. Image by Stefan Marjoram

Bloodhound Team working on the rear lower chassis at the Bristol Technical Centre. Image by Stefan Marjoram

Bloodhound Team working on the rear lower chassis at the Bristol Technical Centre. Image by Stefan Marjoram

As a footnote to Cfn Rob Fenn’s role on the project, I must put his experience into perspective – he is 20 years old and has recently completed his apprenticeship after completing training at the Army’s School of Electrical and Mechanical Engineering. He was selected as an outstanding candidate in the REME interview process and has impressed Bloodhound’s F1 engineers and designers with his work ethic, willingness to muck in and drive to expand his knowledge. This knowledge transfer – in essence rocket powered professional development – is one of the key benefits of the MOD’s Concordat with Bloodhound. It will create a lasting legacy in each REME soldier’s career and have a positive impact on the Army’s ability to support equipment maintenance and repair, especially on Operations.

Origins of the Ministry’s Concordat with Bloodhound

The origins of the MOD Concordat go back to last year at a chance meeting between Peter Luff MP, then Minister for Defence Equipment Support and Technology, and Richard Noble. The meeting at DE&S’s Defence Vehicle Demonstration event led to an agreement being proposed that would draw together the various strands of collaborative work that already existed between the MOD and Bloodhound. This would provide a platform for deepening the relationship and express the Department’s and the Minister’s own belief in this ground breaking education project and the benefits that it will return to the Department and the Armed Forces.

Image by Ashleigh Kane Photography

Peter Luff MP and Richard Noble. Image by Ashleigh Kane Photography

But nothing in politics is straightforward and before we knew it we had a new Min(DEST). Fortunately, the new Minister, Philip Dunne MP was just as excited about the project and progress on the agreement continued at pace. On 1 October 2012 we were all present in the Officers’ Mess at Wellington Barracks in London to witness the signing of the Concordat by the Minister and Richard Noble amongst a throng of broadcast and newspaper journalists. BFBS TV Report


From Philip Dunne MP: “This is a great opportunity for the Army’s Electrical and Mechanical engineers to share experience and develop their skills whilst working on this innovative technology here in the UK; their experience will feed directly back into the front line as they progress through their Army careers.”

At last week’s visit to Bristol, the Minister got to see an example of REME tradesmen working at the cutting edge of technical development when I handed him over to WO2 (AQMS) Mark Edwin to explain his role developing the primary control system for the developmental EJ200 TYPHOON engines. The control avionics will allow Bloodhound’s driver, Wing Commander Andy Green, to control the engine and get the car up to speed before the rocket kicks in and blasts the car through the sound barrier.

In the next blog I will touch on the work the electronic systems team have been doing with the EJ200 engine and the Minister’s reaction to the news that the WO2 (AQMS) Edwin and the team have built a system to control the engine which has been successfully tested on Rolls Royce’s engine simulator.

My nose was streaming and my throat felt like the striker from a match box

Recruit Greenhalgh

Recruit Greenhalgh

Soldier under Training Robert Greenhalgh, a recruit at the Army Training Centre in Pirbright, writes about his experiences of basic training in the British Army.

Week 4

This week started with our weapon handling test, perhaps I could have done a little better.  I made a few mistakes but nothing that could prevent me from passing , so I was happy with the result.  Today was our first boot run and my feet were rather sore, but this was my entire fault due to me not paying attention to the section commanders telling me to tighten my boots properly and wear two pairs of socks. We also went on a DCCT range which is like a big, nearly realistic rifle range. I did a lot better than I thought I would and passed but it wasn’t a test.

Marking time… what an effort, marching on the spot, whilst bringing your thighs parallel to the ground, it took me a while to get the timings right, but managed to get it squared away.  The second DCCT session was good today. This time we fired from different firing positions, I found squatting really tough, but kneeling and standing I was fine with.

This was the first day that I have fired with live rounds. It took me a while to get used to the recoil. Luckily we got to have a second go which helped a lot with my accuracy.  Five mile run! I can definitely tell that my fitness has improved, I never would have been able to complete such a distance before my training.

We went out of camp today to do a high ropes course, which was brilliant fun. Sunday was spent sorting out my kit ready for our first nights exercise which will hopefully be awesome.

Week 5

Well what a week this has been! This week was exercise First Night which entails 2 nights and 3 days in the field.  I was really nervous as I didn’t know what to expect from a military exercise.  When we first got to the exercise area we had to dig a shell scrape, which is a hole deep up to your knees and big enough to fit 2 people in plus bergans.  This was really hard work but I felt a sense of achievement once I had completed it.  I really enjoyed learning all the drills on exercise but I don’t think I would have got through it if it wasn’t for my team mates.  When it rained moral hit the floor; it was cold, wet and muddy but we all picked each other up and got through it. 

I have really loved training so far; it’s amazing how much you can achieve.  Training is now starting to step up and it’s only going to get harder but if we all remain motivated and keep a positive attitude, I believe we can all get through anything!

That weekend we were taken off camp to study the realities of war which was really interesting. We were taken first to Westminster Abbey, which is a magnificent building with beautiful architecture, here we were given a VIP tour and saw lots of places where the civvies (general public) aren’t aloud to visit , such as where prince William and Kate were married and lots of other places.  I also found out that Sir Isaac Newton was buried there and not too far away was the founder of penicillin this I thought was very interesting. 

On the Sunday we spent half the day at Brookwood military cemetery where we paid our respects to soldiers that had fallen in previous wars to prevent us being overrun.  At the end of our tour we were aloud to roam around for a while and find a head stone that we had some sort of connection with. The only one that had any close connection with me was that of my grandmother’s maiden name, so I laid down a poppy as a sign of respect. After we had all done that we had a little service which was wonderful.

Week 6

The first day of this week was tough. We had an inspection first thing which I let myself down on by not dusting my lockers and not cleaning the bottoms of my boots, so we ended up having to have a re-show of our lockers at 21:00 hrs. 

We spent all day on the ranges that Tuesday getting our groupings from 50 and 100 meters some of my shots were pretty shocking, but I managed to pull it off in the end by getting a nice cluster all close to one another.  I can definitely tell that my shot is getting better.

Our first CBRN (chemical biological radiological and nuclear) lesson today during which we were just taught the basics like what piece of kit is and what it is used for and made out of.  Some more drill and a battle P.T lesson which was really tough, but I pulled myself through and afterwards felt amazing.

Another day at the ranges which was really good, this time we were zeroing our weapons to our eyesight so that the shots that we were firing would hit the target in the correct place as long as we aimed at the correct place. The day after we only had one lesson and this was strength and conditioning which I find really enjoyable and our instructor was a real laugh. That Sunday we had a compulsory church service which was definitely the best so far I really do think that every time we go they get better.

Week 7

This week started off well with the OC’s inspection; he walked round our section room and tested us on our knowledge of the things that we have learnt so far during our training, luckily he asked me what the marksmanship principles are, which I easily rolled off my tongue.  Afterwards we had our drill test which we failed miserably, due to everyone flapping about it, but we passed it by the Wednesday.  Before that we had our phase two visits which was brilliant and we found out a lot of information about what we will be doing and what will be expected of us.  Families’ day on the Thursday; this was nice to see my dad and after all it felt like we had been here a lifetime already.  When I walked into where we were meeting our parents, he looked up at me in shock then said that I looked like a man. After they had been shown a taster of what we do and what we have been learning, we went home for our long weekend then came back that Sunday.

Week 8

Our first weighted tab, we were only carrying 10 kilograms but my shins were on fire for the first mile or so, then they died down and it got a bit easier.

We went off on our halfway exercise the day after, a twenty minute coach journey, and then the fun began starting with a tab to our harbour area.  The exercise was a real laugh and I really enjoyed getting into all the interesting lessons. Saturday after we were back we spent hours cleaning our rifles which started to annoy me but managed to pass the inspections that they were doing on them.  Sunday was a day for us to sort out our admin.

Week 9

This week started with our Platoon Sergeant’s inspection which did not go well at all, so we had to have a reshow that night which went a lot better.  That afternoon we were on the DCCT range again but this time it was a bit different because we were scored by a point system, this I managed to get third in, which was a real achievement.

Tuesday was a fun day; we had to test our respirators in the RTF (respirator testing facility). This was really horrible; once I had taken my mask off I had to say my name, rank and number which I managed to do but then the NCO started asking me what my favourite colour was. By this time I had run out of breath so had to inhale, as soon as I did the CS gas hit me it was like I was breathing fire when I inhaled but I held it and it cooled down but then I had to inhale again. After my third breath my eyes were watering, my nose was streaming and my throat felt like the striker from a match box, so I had to get out. Once the fresh air hit my lungs it made everything worse, but only for a short time.  Some people were heaving which we all found hilarious, some even thought they had gone blind and were running around like headless chickens which was even funnier.

Ranges all day today this time live rounds which is a lot better than those ‘air rifles’ on the DCCT. We were firing from 100 meters in all the positions 200 meters in all the positions and 300 meters but only in the prone position.  We also got to work down in the butts too which was different, because it was the same points system that we used on the DCCT, so we got scores. Mine was miles better on the DCCT.

Friday was the assault course which was really tough but we had a really good time.

Week 10

This week we had our adventurous training which was absolutely awesome. The group that I was in was called India, luckily I was with some people that I got along with. The first two days we had our hill walking. The scenery in south Wales(Brecon Beacons) was breathtaking. We walked quite a few kilometres before we finally set up camp for the night. It would have been a lot easier if it wasn’t so damn hot, but still we all managed to cope. Waking up to the views of the hills really was spectacular then some wild horses decided to come over to us to investigate. The next day our group went caving which was by far the most exciting thing I have ever done and would love to do it again. Some of the gaps we had to squeeze through were quite small, but we all managed.

On our last day my group had climbing and abseiling. The routes that we had to do weren’t too tough apart from one which only had about six hand holds to get to the top, so I ended up using my elbow and jammed it into a crack just above my head and heaved myself up, then finally reached the top with burning fingers and limbs. That night we were meant to travel back to Pirbright but the coaches showed up at the wrong place so we stayed another night then went back to Pirbright the following day. Then we were off home for our two week summer leave which was definitely needed.

Very impressive bruises

Officer Cadet Todd Ledwith writes from the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst about Exercise BROADSWORD.

Officer Cadet Ledwith

Officer Cadet Ledwith

The consensus is that Exercise BROADSWORD is by far the best exercise we have done thus far at Sandhurst. It is split into three phases – Urban, Rural and CIVPOP, through which each of the three companies in the intake rotate. For Alamein company, our exercise began in uncharacteristically relaxed fashion, as we were the first to play the civilian inhabitants of Longmoor village. The presence of CIVPOP gives huge training value to those in the Urban phase who play the part of the ISAF troops seeking to secure the area against the insurgent forces and enable free and fair elections. Between conducting serials ranging from demanding food and medical supplies from the Civil-Military Co-operation Centre to conducting a ‘shoot and scoot’ on a cordon, Alamein made the most of our time as civilians by hosting an ‘Alamein’s Got Talent’ evening and a home-grown rock concert from the back of a decked-out Troop Carrying Vehicle (the set finished fittingly with a rendition of ‘I Predict a Riot’).

As this phase progressed, the attitude of the population became increasingly hostile towards the ISAF presence, culminating in a public order incident on the final morning. With well-organised ISAF forces armed with personal protective equipment, shields and batons facing off against an unruly mob in plain clothes and a few aggressive chants, the outcome was inevitable. Everyone moved into the Rural phase with some very impressive bruises.

The Rural training area was of a larger scale that that of the Urban, allowing for our patrolling skills to be developed as we moved between the remote villages inhabited by civilian and insurgent forces alike (both played by the Gurkha Company Sittang and soldiers from the Royal Logistic Corps). As in the Urban phase, the training focus was upon dealing with improvised explosive devices (IEDs) as well as strike operations to seize IED making equipment or insurgent leaders and public order control. This phase also gave us experience of living in a company-sized forward operating base (FOB) with a view to future operations post-commissioning.

Our final rotation found Alamein Company, in our mixed multiples of male and females (approximately half a platoon strength each organised into teams with a flexible order of battle), back in Longmoor village to become the ISAF forces we had railed against only days previously. The continuing complexity of non-conventional operations in this phase was one of the reasons the exercise was so enjoyed, giving commanders on the ground many new considerations to their decision-making process. Included in these considerations was the attachment of Ammunition Technical Officers (ATO) to deal with IEDs, military working dogs for search and protection and interpreters to communicate with the local population. At Company level, an Intelligence Cell was attached to the permanent Operations Room adding another level of application of knowledge to the scenario.

Our control of the final riot went well and everyone maintained their composure whilst using appropriate force to control the situation. At the conclusion of the riot Exercise BROADSWORD was over in typically rapid fashion. We returned to Sandhurst with a few bruises and split lips but more notably we returned mentally drained. The sleep of a leave weekend was eagerly welcomed.

A lot harder and more demanding

Sapper Bradnam – formerly Junior Soldier Bradnam – describes the transition from Phase 1 to Phase 2 training, as he begins to learn the trade of a Royal Engineer at the Royal School of Military Engineering (RSME) at Chatham in Kent.

It’s time to begin the next phase of my training as a Royal Engineer. Combat Engineering is the focus of the first part of my Phase 2 training and from day one it was far from what I expected. We arrived on the Sunday to begin training on the Monday, with some more excited than others. Nervous anticipation would be a good way to describe the feeling of starting a new course. However the nervousness rapidly wore off as realisation hit home when the pace of the course was unveiled. From the start we were straight into locker inspections and into the first module of the course – Basic Construction Techniques. To be honest I thought the standards of previous locker inspections were high but this was a whole new level – every single detail of the locker and block was meticulously inspected from the floor upwards and every minute fault found! The standard expected of us now had certainly been raised…

Basic Construction Techniques (BCT) covers various things, from setting up formwork and concreting to learning how to tie basic knots. Every day, new information was fed to us and we were expected to learn very fast. The “best books” [notebooks] that we had were an excellent way of helping us absorb this information. After all the elements of basic construction had been taught, we had our first modular test. There was a theory paper and 3 different practical tests that had to be completed in order to pass. The 3 practical tests included setting out a 2-metre squared formwork, tying basic knots and creating a square lashing, and setting up and using a Makita drill.

Safety on the drill was a main focus, however all the tests were just as difficult. Not everyone passed the test first time – some had re-sit.

Once the basic construction module had been completed the next module we started was Water Supply. This module covered everything that enables us to source, pump, purify and store water. We built a cuplock tower (water tower), set up a small groups water purification unit, NBC purification units and APE (Purification Equipment). Water supply is one of the main roles that Royal Engineers undertake in Afghanistan and it is therefore a very important subject. The module was slightly shorter than BCT however there were a lot of facts and figures that needed to be learnt in order to pass the test. Again the test comprised a theory paper and 3 practical assessments which included using a gilkes pump, using the APE unit and naming component parts from various pieces of equipment.

The pass rate was a lot higher than that of BCT, which I think was down to people understanding the standard required to pass the test and how much work and revision was needed.

On top of all the Combat Engineering we had learnt we also continued to complete physical training, which, in keeping with the rest of the course, is a lot harder and more demanding. In the first week alone we had a personal fitness assessment, military swim test, 4-mile run and a 5-mile loaded march (tab). After 2 weeks of leave this amount of PT was hard work, but everyone pushed on and worked hard and actually did OK on the sessions and tests.

The start of this course has been a real eye-opener into the standards expected in the Royal Engineers and in the rest of the Army. It is a lot harder than Phase 1 and what I expected. That said, I am enjoying rising to the mark and can’t wait to carry on with the rest of the course. Next week is Demolitions week, which has a reputation of being one of the best weeks in the course. I cannot wait!

Steely-eyed dealers in death

Officer Cadet Elizabeth Eldridge writes from the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst: ” …chanting ‘kill, kill, kill’ approached the sandbag, screamed ‘en garde’ and stabbed it in the heart with full force.”

Officer Cadet Elizabeth Eldridge

Officer Cadet Elizabeth Eldridge

If you come down to the Academy today beware of a Senior Cadet with a rank slide and swagger in her step.  Finally, Senior Term has begun and the distant prospect of Commissioning has turned smudge on the horizon to solid land mass; passing out ahoy.

The first week has been very good fun: seeing the gang (as I like to affectionately term 2 Platoon, Alamein Company) and jumping straight into the Law of Armed Conflict and Counter Insurgency campaigns.  We deployed on a short, 24-hour exercise, Senior Stretch, to ensure that the “recess demons” were banished.  The exercise comprised advance to contacts and night navigation.  In the little personal administration time we were given before the night navigation, 2 Platoon stretched out on our bergens and dozed a little in the sunshine (finally, no more cold injuries).  The Company Commander, Major Lytle AAC, surprised the few left awake.

“I don’t object to you sleeping during your admin time but I would prefer it if you did not sunbathe on exercise.”

One or two of the cadets hastily pulled down their t-shirts and coloured a shade of crimson.

There was another check to ensure no one had slacked off on fitness over the Easter break with Physical Fitness Assessment 4; sit-ups, press-ups and a mile and a half best effort.  I was one of the chosen few called into Captain Webb’s office for a dressing down because my fitness had been found wanting.

“Miss Eldridge, you dropped four seconds on your PFA.  What do you have to say for yourself?”

The mood of the cadets in Senior Term is different.  A little sunshine but the training is exacting a price just as it has imbued us with skills and the knowledge of our own capability.  If I were to choose one moment, one episode from last term, which took the civilian from me and replaced it with soldier that episode would be bayonet training.

“What makes the grass grow?”

“Blood, blood, blood.”

“What are we here for?”

“Kill, kill, kill.”

It is hard to believe that one hour can insert a splinter of steel into your very soul.  The cult of initiation into the British Army betrays its pinnacle in bayonet training.

Forty or so Officer Cadets were marshalled into lines approaching straw sandbags by the duty Colour Sergeant whose sidekick, “the motivator” was waiting in the wings to exact physical degradation until you were bereft of sentient thought.  I stood, stamping my feet, chanting “kill, kill, kill” in the beginning with reticence; civilisation preventing engagement with this bloodthirsty ritual.  It took less than half an hour of leopard crawling through ditches or pulling myself along the ground in press-up position before I was too worn out to think at all.

We were given motivating speeches, and to act as we would do if an insurgent was trying to kill one of the soldiers under our command, an eighteen-year-old at that.  I stomped the ground chanting “kill, kill, kill” approached the sandbag, screamed “en garde” and stabbed it in the heart with full force.  I checked my bayonet and put my rifle in the high port.

The Company Commander told me afterwards he was never going to let me near a bayonet again.  Of all the things to be good at bayonet training is not what I would have chosen but should the slimmest chance prevail (for some) and a situation call upon our training, we now know that we are steely-eyed dealers in death.

The price exacted by two terms at Sandhurst is the soft side; a glimmer is visible of why values and standards are so important to the British Army.  You train hard to fight easy but fighting does not come naturally to most; it is altogether “other”, the aggression that must be controlled, yet at your fingertips as just another resource among many to be called upon in the loneliness of command.

In Junior Term we did not know what was going on half the time and were trained not to think. In Intermediate Term we were asked to remember how to think and now in Senior Term, to understand the complexity of current operations and the decisions that will shortly be ours to make, thinking is imperative.   Just as it should be, the magnitude of responsibility that a Platoon Commander, an officer in the British Army, undertakes looms daunting.

14 weeks away

Officer Cadet Todd Ledwith writes about the start of a new term at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst.

Officer Cadet Ledwith

Officer Cadet Ledwith

A new term begins at Sandhurst and our newly-issued rank slides denote that we our now Seniors – hopefully only a matter of 14 weeks away from gaining our commissions. Similarly to last term, this one began with a short, sharp exercise known as Exercise SENIOR STRETCH, designed to blow out the inevitable cobwebs which form after three weeks of living in the outside world. Deploying on Monday night after a day of lectures on the media’s impact on current operations and a start of term address by the College Commander, we established our hasty harbour and immediately launched into a series of reconnaissance (recce) patrols to locate any Combat Security Outposts (CSOs) held by our enemy, the Northern Democratic Front or NDF. One such location was identified and permitted a dawn attack to be launched by the platoon. Tuesday then saw the platoon conduct a series of advance to contacts, patrolling on a bearing in order to find and destroy the enemy. Back in the harbour, this was followed by an orders group for an ambush to deny the enemy the chance to resupply. This ambush was subsequently cancelled and replaced by the challenge of completing a solo night navigation exercise on the area whilst remaining tactical in our use of light and tracks routes.

A strong performance by the platoon in Friday’s Personal Fitness Assessment will hopefully serve to maintain or improve our 3rd place in the Sovereign’s Banner Competition as we enter the concluding events. The rest of the week has been lecture-heavy and concerned with the complex situational briefing for the upcoming Exercise BROADSWORD which takes place in week 4 and the Counter-insurgency (COIN) and Stabilisation doctrine which will take precedence in our future exercises and careers.