'Wettiner Schwert' exercise

1,000 soldiers are training for the NATO mission

1,000 soldiers are training for the NATO mission

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The 'Wettiner Schwert' exercise kicks off with a combat march that involves more than 1,000 soldiers and more than 350 vehicles and includes a crossing of the Elbe river. Now, the German battle group of the current NATO Response Force practices high-intensity combat at the Altmark Combat Training Centre – using the most modern land weapon systems of the Bundeswehr. This is how the battle group gets ready for operations.

Two armoured vehicles camouflaged with branches stand next to each other on the heath under a cloudy grey sky.

During the 'Wettiner Schwert' exercise, the Leopard 2 A7V main battle tank (MBT) is employed alongside the VJTFVery High Readiness Joint Task Force version of the Puma infantry fighting vehicle (IFV) for the first time. In this exercise, they are to prove themselves together in …

Bundeswehr/Mario Bähr

The land forces of the NATO Response Force (NRFNATO Response Force Land) have been under the command of the German 37 Armoured Infantry Brigade "Freistaat Sachsen" since the beginning of this year and will remain so until 2024. Up to 12,000 soldiers from nine nations are now on stand-by to respond quickly and effectively to threats against NATO or one of its member states. In the coming year, the current NATO Response Force (Land) will not only have the NRFNATO Response Force assignment. It will also become NATO's rapid response force, the Very High Readiness Joint Task Force (VJTFVery High Readiness Joint Task Force ). This force will have a notice to move of two to seven days, making it the most rapidly deployable major unit within the NRFNATO Response Force.

What is the structure of the NRFNATO Response Force land brigade? It consists of up to four battle groups and other support forces. The 'Wettiner Schwert' exercise is to prepare the more than 1,000 soldiers of the German battle group for the upcoming tasks within the NATO alliance. The battle group stands out in that it has been equipped for this purpose with the most modern weapon systems of the Bundeswehr. These weapon systems will also be used in the 'Wettiner Schwert' exercise that has been planned years in advance.

Effective and fast through digitalisation

An IFV drives at full speed along a sandy track at the edge of a forest.

The Puma VJTFVery High Readiness Joint Task Force IFV does not only contribute combat power with its powerful automatic cannon. If required, a group of armoured infantry soldiers can dismount from the vehicle and engage in combat using small arms and antitank weapons.

Bundeswehr/Mario Bähr

The combination of the different weapon systems and service branches is what makes this battle group so effective. As a case in point, the main battle tank forces with their modernized Leopard 2 A7V main battle tanks fight side by side with the armoured infantry which operates the latest version, the VJTFVery High Readiness Joint Task Force configuration, of the agile and flexible Puma infantry fighting vehicle. Air support is provided by the highly manoeuvrable Tiger attack helicopter. On the ground, warfare has now turned digital. Both the combat vehicles and the dismounted forces of the armoured infantry use Battle Management Systems (BMSBattle Management System) for the digital command and control (C2) of the forces. The digital hardware required for this purpose can be installed in vehicles or even be portable, integrated into protective vests. What use are computers, USB sticks etc. on the battlefield? They replace classic but time-consuming analogue C2 means that use maps and analogue radio. The BMSBattle Management System give the troops a unique advantage over enemy forces that are equipped with analogue means only. On the battlefield, the forces can instantly inform each other by means of symbols on digital maps, make expedient movements and quickly engage the enemy thanks to this valuable information advantage. 

'Wettiner Schwert' exercise in Letzlinger Heide 

  • Numerous IFVs are lined up side by side in brown mud. Numerous soldiers stand behind the vehicles' rear doors.

    The 'Wettiner Schwert' exercise has many faces. What all participants have in common is the intensive preparation done before the beginning of the exercise.

    Bundeswehr/Mario Bähr
  • Two tanks camouflaged with branches move in single file on a mud track across an open field.

    At the Army Combat Training Centre, the battle group faces a well-coordinated and experienced opposing force. Among other systems, the opponent uses the Leopard 2 A5 main battle tank.

    Bundeswehr/Mario Bähr
  • Two soldiers aiming their rifles kneel in a position located in a wood.

    Dismounted from the vehicle, armoured infantry soldiers fight in the terrain and use the natural cover of the woods. Will they manage to lure the enemy into the woods?

    Bundeswehr/Mario Bähr
  • Two armoured vehicles with huge shovels dig a pit on a plain.

    With their special vehicles, such as the Dachs armoured engineer vehicle and the Büffel armoured recovery vehicle, the engineers are able to hinder the enemy's movements and improve the mobility of own forces

    Bundeswehr/Mario Bähr
  • Several main battle tanks move in single file along a track on an open area, keeping a large gap between them.

    When the tracks have been cleared of enemy mines, the main battle tanks may continue to move

    Bundeswehr/Mario Bähr
  • An attack helicopter flies fast over a forest.

    The ground forces are supported from the air by attack helicopters. The Army aviation forces with their Tiger attack helicopters are part of the Army and are assigned to the NRFNATO Response Force (Land). They are a valuable asset.

    Bundeswehr/Mario Bähr

Tried and tested: Classic elements will be retained

A motorcyclist races along a dirt road on his Enduro motorbike.

Coming into play when communication links are broken, dispatch riders have seen a renaissance. The ability to pass on information by motorbike is needed again.

Bundeswehr/Mario Bähr

The most advanced digital C2 systems on the market have become rather reliable by now. Nevertheless, the forces must always anticipate that their systems might be disrupted. Redundancy ensures robust operation. Therefore, time-tested C2 methods will continue to be used. Despite the various technical aids, the highly trained soldiers are still able to apply classic C2 skills on the battlefield and to lead by means of analogue radio and maps. Even the good old dispatch riders, i.e. messengers on motorcycles, have been used again in recent years. Whenever needed, they ride their light, off-road motorcycles at maximum speed, quickly cross sandy and narrow tracks and deliver important information, safely stowed in their bags. 

First joint exercise of Leopard 2 A7V MBT and Puma VJTFVery High Readiness Joint Task Force IFV

Two armoured vehicles stand in staggered formation and far apart on a forest clearing.

Whether they are part of the main battle tank force or of the armoured infantry – during the exercise, the crews have to coordinate and work as a team to be able to prevail in combat.

Bundeswehr/Mario Bähr

This is the first time that the most modern main battle tanks of the Bundeswehr exercise together with the latest model of the Puma infantry fighting vehicle. In Letzlinger Heide, they are to train a complex delaying operation, the most challenging form of manoeuvre in tactics. In a wooded, flat and sandy heathland, it becomes clear why both types of combat vehicles and the dismounted soldiers have been equipped with BMSBattle Management System. In highly dynamic combat, all forces must have the most up-to-date and uniform situation picture possible. In the open terrain behind patches of woodland and small hills, the large-calibre main battle tanks withdraw step by step. In their delaying operation, they lure the attacking enemy into their coordinated fire. At the same time, in the nearby woodland, close to dangerous minefields, the dismounted soldiers with their shoulder-fired antitank missiles as well as the heavily armed infantry fighting vehicles are taking aim at the enemy forces. Now it is crucial to make the right movements at the right time. The objective: In a delaying action, forces withdraw deliberately to slow down the enemy's attack, gain time and gradually wear down the enemy, in order to reduce his momentum of attack.

It is not only the combat force that matters

  • A convoy of combat vehicles and two motorcycles moves across sandy terrain.

    Besides the combat forces, many other forces and units also train in the exercise. The company operations officer is the deputy company commander. In combat, he/she is in charge of the support forces.

    Bundeswehr/Mario Bähr
  • Two armoured vehicles stand next to each other, facing a pile of brown sand.

    During the 'Wettiner Schwert' exercise, soldiers lay and clear minefields, cross obstacles with heavy engineer equipment or provide casualty care

    Bundeswehr/Mario Bähr
  • Inside a green tent, four medics treat two wounded soldiers on raised stretchers.

    Medical forces conduct their casualty care training also as realistically as possible. In this tent, wounded soldiers receive professional initial treatment.

    Bundeswehr/Mario Bähr
by Peter Müller
Collective defence

Army forces with advanced basic capabilities for special operations

In 2023, 37 Armoured Infantry Brigade is part of NATO's rapid response force known as the Very High Readiness Joint Task Force (VJTFVery High Readiness Joint Task Force ).