Exercise Saif Sarrea 3 (ExSS3) was a combined military training exercise between the United Kingdom and Oman, the largest exercise of its kind in the past 17 years. Land-based operations took place in Oman with naval and air operations taking place in both Omani and international theaters. 5,500 UK personnel comprising of both regular and reserve forces were deployed alongside an estimated Omani force of 60,000 personnel from the Sultan's Armed Forces.
The original exercise, Saif Sareea 1 took place in 1986, it tested the UK's ability to deploy a sizable force at a great distance. It involved some 5,000 personnel and was one of the largest exercises of its type to occur outside of the NATO area of operations during the cold war. The second exercise, Saif Sareea 2 took place in 2001, this was substantially larger than the previous exercise. Its aim was to test several of the concepts flagged in the 1998 Strategic Defence Review about the UK's ability to deploy such a force across the globe on operations. Involving 22,500 personnel from all 3 services, some 21 vessels including HMS Illustrious (an invincible class light carrier), HMS Ocean (an amphibious assault ship), and 66 Challenger 2s this is clearly the largest of the 3 exercises, in terms of a British commitment. Saif Sareea 2 was a timely exercise allowing forces to learn lessons in a desert environment not too dissimilar to that of Iraq or Afghanistan. The exercise brought about new challenges and demands which were to be overcome before British forces were deployed in the invasion of Iraq.
The United Kingdom has a long-standing and well-rooted relationship with the Sultanate of Oman, it has long been the key to the Persian Gulf, the Gulf of Oman and the Arabian sea. Territories of Oman once reached as far south as Zanzibar, a semi-autonomous region of Tanzania.
Exercise Saif Sareea 3 ran in conjuncture with Exercise Trident Juncture in Norway, more information on TRJE18 can be found here.
The exercise demonstrated the United Kingdoms ability to provide security to a non-NATO ally and safeguard the UK's interest in such a vital arena. It further demonstrated the United Kingdoms obligation to its international non-NATO allies and our ability to conduct a large-scale strategic deployment, comprising of a multinational force in the Middle-East. It has strengthened our tri-service relationship with Oman and assisted the development in their joint interoperable defence capabilities - alongside that of Exercise Trident Juncture.
The Ministry of Defence released the following statement "it [ExSS3] will strengthen our tri-service relationship with Oman and will help develop their joint, interoperable capabilities". The exercise exhibited the Sultanates ability to operate alongside a European military in, what is to the Europeans, a harsh and astringent environment. Royal Marine lieutenant colonel Paul Maynard said "It's important we sustain our ability to operate in austere, hot, arid and challenging environments. This training is absolutely essential."
The exercise was conducted in 5 stages:
- Stage 1: The Army deployed 2,000 soldiers on exercise, with around 800 ground exercising troops, 185 armoured fighting vehicles and other such support equipment.
- Stage 2: Nationwide training exercises took place between 1-16th October
- Stage 3: The integration of the UK battle group with a large Omani force.
- Stage 4: Final exercises occurred between the 24 and 27th October.
- Stage 5: Final demonstrations of firepower between UK & Omani forces.
The exercise comprised of several HQ elements from 1 Brigade Household Cavalry, 1 Mercian and 1st Regiment Royal Logistical Corps. Supplementing the HQ elements were the Royal Tank Regiment, 1 Royal Horse Artillery, 3 Rifles, 21 Signals, 22 Engineers, 5 Medical Regiment, 27 Regiment RLC, 9 Regiment RLC, 17 Regiment RLC, 17 Port and Maritime Regiment RLC, the Royal Wessex Yeomanry and 6 Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers. 664 Squadron, 4 Regiment, Army Air Core were also in Oman.
The Royal Air Force deployed Chinooks from 27 Squadron and Pumas from 230 Squadron. The Royal Navy had several ships and units also on exercise, these included HMS Albion (an amphibious assault ship), HMS Dragon (a Type 45 destroyer), HMS Blyth (a sand down-class mine hunter), HMS Ledbury (a hunt class mine countermeasure vessel), RFA Lyme Bay, RFA Cardigan Bay (bay class auxiliary landing ships) and 40 Commando RM, 24 Commando Regiment RE, 29 Commando Regiment RA, and 30 Commando RM. HMS Albion's Commodore James Parkin said "HMS Albion represents the very best of the British Armed Forces. Able to deploy globally, crammed to the gunwales with modern weapons and sensors, and capable of putting a potent landing force of commandos from the sea onto land."
Gulf security is our security, Defence Minister Mark Lancaster reaffirmed whilst visiting Iraq, Bahrain and Oman. As part of the 5-day visit, the minister also officially opened the UK-Oman joint exercise, Saif Sareea 3 alongside Oman's Minister Responsible for Defence Affairs, His Excellency Sayyid Badr bin Saud bin Harib Al Busaidi. Mark Lancaster said "the security of the Gulf is of the utmost importance to not only the regional stability but to the worlds economic stability. Our commitment to our international responsibilities in the region is unwavering. Saif Sareea 3 is far more than just a bilateral military exercise, it is a demonstration of our commitment and will leave behind a legacy for decades to come."
Saif Sareea 3 is the largest of events which will see the United Kingdom's armed forces work with every single one of our Gulf partners in a combination of engagements in land, sea and in the air over the upcoming months. Our dedication and commitment to our allies has been shown and our ability to deploy a sizeable force around the world is now undoubted. Saif Sareaa 3 has, like many exercises before it reinforces our ability to strike hard, and at a great distance. Be warned.