Jungle warfare is back – but the environment is a bitch!

DSCN7876 The British Army is re-starting its Long Range Recce Patrol Course (LRRPC) in the jungles of Brunei after a gap of more than a decade and the first pilot course was completed in December.

As the UK has withdrawn from Iraq and now Afghanistan, the focus is moving towards contingency, which means being prepared for the next fight and this could be in any number of locations. The LRRPC offers recce sections from various infantry regiments the chance to test their skills and stamina in this environment.

Increasing involvement in West and Central Africa suggests that forces could be engaged here more often and there are a number of other areas across the globe that have a close tropical environment.

However, this is not an operating theatre for the weak-hearted as US forces found in Vietnam and British troops before them in Borneo, Malaysia and SE Asia during WW2.

It is not a benign environment because the jungle is out to get you. The biggest dangers in the jungle include heat exhaustion, flash floods and deadfall – dead branches, trees and other material which can fall out of the jungle canopy tens of metres above and crash onto an unsuspecting trooper below.

There are also the numerous insects and animals as well as the plants themselves which can pierce, scrape, or ooze poisonous sap. A deluge of rain will regularly pour from the sky creating torrents and rapids in a matter of minutes, whilst the break from the heat climbing steep hills is welcome it makes the surfaces dangerously slippery.

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It strips the infantry soldier to the bare minimum. It is the purest form of infantry soldiering because there are few added extras – aside from helicopter insertions and air drops there is no support, there are no vehicles and electronic systems have limited use.

Radios can only be used sparingly as the batteries will run out, rifles sights and optics get steamed up, thermal sights are blocked by the jungle and night vision is not much better.

Across this terrain soldiers have to carry everything, rations for your deployment, water, hammocks to sleep in, dry clothes, cooking materials, radios, batteries, ammunition, rifle, medical kit, and more so self-sufficiency is vital.

Navigation is the biggest challenge. A powerful GPS system can be used but otherwise map reading is difficult and is based on following ridgelines and contours and pacing distances on grid and magnetic bearings. In the jungle sight is restricted to a matter of 10-20m into the undergrowth at best therefore detecting enemy activity and engaging in contacts is extremely difficult.

Because vision in daytime is so restricted, there is no movement at night because the risk of getting lost is even higher and with sound travelling further it is harder to move undetected.

All this makes it the most challenging place for a soldier to operate on the planet. If you can make it here you can make it anywhere. More details to follow in the next edition of Land Warfare International.

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4 comments

  • I remember it well, Belize 1981. This was the last Operational jungle location for the British Army.

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  • I think the SF have been operating in Columbia and Central America on counter-drug operations but you’re right can’t think of any mainstream British Army jungle deployments.

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  • The Brunei jungle is also chock-full of hornets.. Our section was attacked by swarms of em and had to evac three of them out because of the stings. In short, Brunei jungle is a bitch. It’s not funny when you get stuck thigh-deep in the mud or chest deep in the water.Overall it’s mentally and physically taxing.

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    • Yeah we had two evacuations for hornets, one for heat exhaustion, one for black sap rash around the eyes, a slip causing a fractured pelvis, and two compassionate.
      A week after I got back I was still knackered and crashing out to sleep before 10pm!

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