While the future of the British military’s tanks remains in question—what is certain is that armored vehicles from the United Kingdom won’t be rolling out in the Canadian province of Alberta next year due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. The annual armored training has been canceled for a second year in a row.
The tank training exercises are routinely held each year at the British Army Training Unit Suffield (BATUS), which is located at the vast training area of the Canadian Forces Bases Suffield, where it is used for armored drills and exercises. It is the British Army’s largest armored training facility and can accommodate live-firing and tactical effect simulation (TES) exercises up to battle group level. At more than 2,700 square kilometers BATUS is more than seven times the size of the British Army’s facilities at Salisbury Plain—the largest military training area in the United Kingdom.
The 2020 deployment to BATUS was scrubbed earlier this year when units were redeployed domestically to help support the Ministry of Health efforts to contain the novel coronavirus. Now this month, the British Army announced that CFB Suffield will miss a second year of British tank training in 2021.
The base’s commander, Lt. Col. Troy Leifso announced last Thursday during a video conference that uncertainty over the coronavirus has led the Ministry of Defence to only schedule domestic training next year.
“They can’t afford to lose a second training year, but there are plans to be training here in 2022,” Lt. Leifso said in a statement reported by Medical Hat News. In addition to the lost opportunity to train with partner forces, this is a significant blow to the local Canadian economy—as the exercises bring 5,000 to 10,000 troops annually.
Perfect Tank Country
BATUS is approximately nineteen percent the size of Northern Ireland and it offers the British Army the ability to conduct large-scale exercises that no United Kingdom military base could possibly accommodate.
The prairie of Alberta is about the best tank country the British Army could hope for, and it has been used since 1972 for annual training exercises, which run for about thirty days involving live fire drills. Due to the harsh Canadian winters, the facility can only be used from May to October each year, but the British military maintains a staff at the base year-round.
About 800 Canadian military personnel and civilian employees are located at CFB Suffield, while BATUS reportedly maintains a permanent staff of 250. The facility is also equipped with a full complement of Challenger 2 tanks and Warrior Infantry Fighting Vehicles that are used in the annual exercises.
While troops won’t be heading to BATUS next year, there will be a larger than usual movement out of CFB Suffield, as the Challenger II tanks deployed at the testing grounds will now be redeployed to the United Kingdom for training, which will likely occur at the smaller Salisbury Plain.
“They don’t have a secondary training fleet,” Leifso added, and said the plan is for the Challengers to return to Canada in 2022. That is of course dependent on whether the United Kingdom’s Ministry of Defence determines the need to even maintain a tank force at all.
Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He is the author of several books on military headgear including A Gallery of Military Headdress, which is available on Amazon.com.