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Mountain Leaders

Mountain Leaders are an elite cadre of Royal Marines who are experts in long range reconnaissance, arctic warfare and mountain climbing. As the The Mountain Leader Training Cadre (MLTC), their primary peacetime role is to teach their techniques to other Commando Troops and share their expertise with other military units.

In their operational role, Mountain Leaders carry out Intelligence Surveillance Target Acquisition Reconnaissance (ISTAR) operations and lead mountain routes and cliff assaults for 3 Commando Brigade. They form the nucleus of the Brigade Patrol Troop (BPT) and may also be found in each Commando's Recce Troop.

Mountain Leaders are not strictly-speaking Special Forces, even though their standards of selection and training are considered by some to be as hard, if not harder, than UKSF units. Mountain Leaders are under the control of 3 Commando Brigade, not UKSF.

Mountain Leaders History

The unit's history can be traced back to the Cliff Assault Wing formed in the 1950s, later to become the Cliff Assault Troop. These 'Cliff Leaders' were tasked with leading the Commando units up cliffs and operating in arctic conditions. The appropriate skills and techniques were developed and perfected and then passed on the rest of the Royal Marines. The Cliff Assault Troop was renamed to the Reconnaissance Leader Troop in 1965 until 1970 when it was renamed again to the Mountain & Arctic Warfare Cadre. The M&AWC helped prepare 3 Commando Brigade for its cold war role, protecting NATO's northern flank. Were war to break out, the M&AWC would provide long range arctic reconnaissance to 3 CDO BDE, operating on foot and on skis.

The Falklands

When Argentina invaded the Falklands in 1982, the M&AWC reconfigured from training to a war footing, raising patrols for 3 Commando Brigade. Following the main amphibious landings on May 21st, 4-man patrols were inserted onto the islands where they carried out recce missions, augmenting the SAS and SBS patrols already operating. Their war was not limited to reconnaissance, however. 10 days after the main landings, the M&AWC engaged in a fierce firefight with Argentine Special Forces at Top Malo House.

The 90s onwards

The Brigade Reconnaissance Force (BRF) was raised in the early nineties to fill the need of a permanent medium recce force for 3 Cdo Bde. Mountain Leader NCOs were used to command these patrols, which eventually became known as the Brigade Patrol Troop. Other MLs remained in the training role, in the form of The Mountain Leader Training Cadre (MLTC).

Mountain Leader Training

MLs are trained by Mountain Leader and Combat Intelligence Company based at Commando Training Centre Royal Marines, Lympstone and at various field locations. There are several classes of Mountain Leaders, each qualified to a different level with ML3 being the most basic, then ML2, then ML1, the most advanced.

Mountain Leader Class 3 (ML3)

In 2012 the Royal Marines opened the Mountain Leader branch to all Marine-level ranks via the new ML3 course. ML3s are instructed in surveillance, close target reconnaissance and vertical assaults.

An initial Mountain Leader Selection course is followed by an 8 week ML3 course that includes a week of cliff climbing in Cornwall, mountain climbing in North Wales and the highlands of Scotland.

Once qualified, a Mountain Leader (ML3) will usually be integrated into the Commandos, often into the Reconnaissance Troops. Once a Marine achieves the rank of Corporal, they can undergo the ML2 course.

Mountain Leader Class 2 (ML2)

ML2s train all ranks in Mountain & Cold Weather Warfare (M&CWW) operations. They are able to lead mountain routes in winter to grade 3, teach military rock climing to UK 'Severe' standard. They operate as ISTAR Patrol Leaders.

The 34 week ML2 training course is open to Royal Marines with rank of Corporal or above. They must have passed a Junior Command Course and an initial Mountain Leader Selection. The ML2 course covers:

  • Vertical assault/climbing
  • Mountain movement
  • Surveillance and reconnaissance (ISTAR Patrol leader, inc survival)
  • Advanced mountain movement
  • M&CWW instructor

Qualifications gained:

  • ISTAR patrol leader
  • M&CWW instructor
  • Rock climbing (Military)
  • Snow and ice climbing (Military)
  • Basic Ski instructor
  • MLTB Summer
  • Level 3 Diploma-Supervision Expedition Survival and Surveillance

Mountain Leader Class 1 (ML1)

ML1s supervise and train all ranks in Mountain & Cold Weather Warfare (M&CWW) operations. They lead mountain routes in winter to grade 4 and teach mountain climbing to UK 'Very Severe' level. They operate within 3 Commando Brigade in the ISTAR Patrol Manager role.

The 36 week ML1 course is open to SNCOs with a minimum of 2 years in the ML2 role. It covers:

  • Vertical assault/climbing instructor/supervisor
  • Advanced mountain movement supervisor and instructor
  • ISTAR manager
  • M&CWW supervisor and instructor

Qualifications gained:

  • M&CW instructor and supervisor
  • Snow and ice climbing supervisor (Military)
  • Rock climbing and mountaineering supervisor (Military)
  • Single Pitch Award
  • Level 2 Norwegian Telemark Instructors
  • Advanced Ski Instructors (Military)
  • Level 4 Diploma – Managing Expedition Survival and Surveillance
  • Avalanche aware

Mountain Leaders
A Mountain Leader with 3 Commando Brigade's Brigade Patrol Troop instructs British and American Marines during cross-training in California. Mountain Leaders are recognized world-wide as experts in their field.
U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Ben J. Flores

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