British army to abandon Alberta base for Oman location closer to global hotspots

, British army to abandon Alberta base for Oman location closer to global hotspots, Nzuchi Times National News

Defence sources said the shift to the Gulf would enable British forces to position hardware closer to allies such as Ukraine and Bahrain, and to potential adversaries such as Iran

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The British army is to leave Canada after 50 years, with its biggest global training base to be moved to the Middle East.

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The British Army Training Unit Suffield (Batus) in Alberta has been in operation since 1972, training thousands of soldiers in live firing exercises.

More than 1,000 vehicles, including tanks and helicopters, are used by regiments for weeks at a time at the 1,600-square-mile base.

However, Ben Wallace, the U.K. defence secretary, is expected to announce this week that plans to modernize the army will include developing a training area in Oman. The decision to use the Omani desert near Duqm airbase and port as the main training ground for tanks and other armoured vehicles will mean that Batus, home to more than 400 permanent British staff, and the smaller Wainwright training area nearby, will close.

Defence sources said the shift to the Gulf would enable British forces to position hardware closer to allies such as Ukraine and Bahrain, and to potential adversaries such as Iran.

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This will reduce the time necessary to respond to any crisis in the region and allow the U.K. government to showcase British military technology to boost potential arms sales.

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“If you only have 148 tanks and 22 of them are stuck in Canada, that’s 22 tanks that are not at readiness and not available to do anything operational,” a defence source told The Daily Telegraph.

“If they are training in Poland or Duqm the logic is that they are having a more operational and deterrent effect.”

British forces are stationed in Poland as part of NATO’s mission to deter Russia, and training with tanks already takes place there. The announcement of the Oman move comes as tensions with the Kremlin rise amid the migrant crisis on the Polish border with Belarus.

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A Ministry of Defence spokesman said Batus would not close before 2023, as big tank exercises are planned over the next two years. Small numbers of military personnel will still be located in Canada, as defence attaches, liaison officers and on exchange with Canadian units.

The announcement will form part of a broader plan outlining how the army will adapt to take advantage of digital technology.

Soldiers have been told to expect an announcement imminently about new structures and unit roles. It will include an update on the Ranger Regiment detailing which units will form the new force and the selection and training courses required to join.

The Rangers were announced in March and will be formed from four existing battalions before wider recruitment takes place. Ben Barry, of the International Institute for Strategic Studies, said the Rangers would be seen as a special operations brigade and modelled on the U.S. Green Berets.

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They will be supported by a security force assistance brigade, another new formation to be made up of existing units and designed to train and advise but not to put itself in harm’s way to the same degree.

, British army to abandon Alberta base for Oman location closer to global hotspots, Nzuchi Times National News

However, Barry said there was a risk in shrinking the army and making it more specialized at the same time.

“If this special operations brigade becomes another elite organization requiring people to compete to be selected into it like airborne forces and the army component of 3 Commando Brigade, this becomes yet another elite force which, by definition, will compete against the other elite forces for highly motivated self-starting people in an army that’s getting smaller.”

The army plans to reorganize itself to enable it to fight a major war, after decades in which it became specialized in fighting insurgencies in Iraq and Afghanistan.

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