British, French military top brass get Spring Storm overview

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Lt Gen. Vincent Guionie (left) and Lt. Gen. Ralph Wooddisse at Spring Storm. Source: NATO eFP social media

The annual Exercise Spring Storm, a large-scale military exercise which forms the culmination of the annual conscript intake's training, ended at the weekend, and also saw the French and British land forces' commanders spend time in Estonia.

As well as getting to see up close how things were progressing, the pair got to try out each other's armies' heavy tanks – the Challenger 2 Main Battle Tank (MBT) in the case of the British Army and the Leclerc in the case of the French.

Personnel from the NATO Enhanced Forward Presence (eFP) Battlegroup also took part in Spring Storm this year. The battlegroup is British-led, organizationally a part of the Estonian Defense Forces' (EDF) 1st Infantry Brigade, joined by a French contingent, regularly taking part on a rotational basis, as well as Danish personnel and those of other NATO nations such as Belgium.

Lt Gen. Vincent Guionie of the Commandement des Forces Terrestres and Lt Gen. Ralph Wooddisse, appointed U.K. Commander Field Army in April, saw the climax of the three-week exercise first-hand, including live-fire shooting drills by various branches of arms.

The Generals met with both French and British soldiers, hearing about their experiences of working alongside one another on Spring Storm, and within the EDF brigade.

The two also got a trip in the MBT from the other's army, with Lt. Gen. Guionie saying that: "Obviously because I am French, I prefer Leclerc, but the Challenger is a good tank."

Challenger MBT (background) in action during Spring Storm Source: NATO eFP social media

"They are not exactly from the same generation, but globally they are from the same generation, but globally they have quite the same capacity. I think that Leclerc is much quicker, so I think that is the main capability, but in fact the gun is the same and the observation are of the same capacity," he went on, speaking to ERR's Sergei Stepanov.

Military equipment at the Port of Paldiski earlier this year. Source: Ardi Hallismaa/Mil.ee

Challenger 2 was introduced around 20 years ago; Leclerc almost 10 years earlier.

Of the broader cooperation, Lt. Gen. Wooddisse said it was. "Excellent. You've seen today some of the examples of how we're working closely together tactically, learning from each other, and I think operating increasingly effectively together."

"But of course all of this comes together under Estonian command and control, and that's a really important part of our deployment here. It's got the French and the British working alongside each other, but working for the Estonians in support of Estonia," Lt. Gen. Wooddisse went on.

In terms of broader, strategic vision, Lt. Gen. Guionie said that this was shared between the two countries' militaries.

He said: "We have an agreement dating from the beginning of 2012 at Lancaster House, and here in Estonia this is a sign of our ability to be committed all together, this time the French under the British command, but it can be the contrary in another theater, so it is a sign of the ability of European nations to help each other."

As to the eFP's size, Lt. Gen. Wooddisse said that it was appropriate to the task.

"I think given the nature of the terrain and the sort of threats you're up against, this is about the right size for a permanent presence in Estonia. Of course, we could reinforce it if we needed to," he went on.

Lt. Gen. Wooddisse assumed command of 1st (United Kingdom) Division in May 2017 and was appointed as Assistant Chief of the General Staff in November 2018, as noted becoming Commander Field Army in April this year.

Lt. Gen. Guionie was appointed Commandement des Forces Terrestres, based in Lille, France, in September 2018. He is a Commander of the Légion d'Honneur and Commander of the Ordre National du Mérite.

Spring Storm, while a larger affair than last year's, limited the number of EDF reservists taking part, due to coronavirus concerns.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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