British Army Commanding Officer suspended over unsafe use of kit

Want the best of The Telegraph direct to your email and WhatsApp? Sign up to our free twice-daily  Front Page newsletter and new  audio briefings. A British army officer has been summoned back from a training exercise in Canada over the alleged “unsafe” use of military equipment.The Commanding Officer of The Royal Dragoon Guards has been temporarily suspended from his position whilst an investigation is conducted.The officer, Lieutenant Colonel Ben Watts, has been flown back from Exercise Prairie Storm and will be have to explain himself to the Commander of 20 Armoured Infantry Brigade. His position will be filled by the unit Second-in Command for the duration of the inquiry.The investigation is looking into the inappropriate use of smoke dischargers that are used to simulate explosions.  These items are normally placed around the training area in Canada – seven times larger that Salisbury Plain – and are designed to be manually set off by training staff. The Telegraph understands some modifications may have been made to the smoke dischargers which could have made them unsafe.Lt Col Watts will be asked if he knew of, or directed, the alleged equipment modifications. The probe is not expected to last more than a week.An Army spokesperson said: “We can confirm that a Commanding Officer has been suspended whilst an investigation takes place, in line with normal practice.” The Royal Dragoon Guards, normally based in Catterick Garrison, North Yorkshire, deployed to Canada on May 15 to act as the enemy force for other units to ‘fight’ against in a series of wargames over the next few months.The British Army uses the area in Canada to practice military drills. Given the sparse location and lack of civilians it provides training opportunities on a scale that is not achievable in the UK.The Royal Dragoon Guards is an armoured reconnaissance unit tasked with operating ahead of other forces to find the enemy and seek out safe routes. The Regiment is an amalgamation of four previous cavalry regiments, that date back to 1685.One former Officer was Captain Oates who famously walked from his tent to his death, so as not to burden his comrades, during Robert Scott’s ill-fated expedition to the South Pole in 1912, allegedly saying ‘I’m just going outside for a walk. I may be some time’. read more