British Apache operations over Libya revealed

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The British Army’s Apache attack helicopters attacked forty targets in Libya during their first month operating over the country, the UK Ministry of Defence says.

Four Boeing/Westland Apaches from the Army Air Corps’ 656 Squadron first went into action over Libya on June 3, taking off the from the Royal Navy’s HMS Ocean assault ship, Flight International reports. The aircraft were originally put on board as part of an exercise, but the vessel was moved off the Libyan coast in May.
“This was the first operational mission flown by British Army Apaches at sea,” British Defence Secretary Liam Fox said. “The additional capabilities now being employed by NATO further reinforce the UK’s enduring commitment and NATO’s determination to … ensure that the people of Libya are free to determine their own future.”

The Apaches flew 13 attack missions involving 30 sorties by July 3, according to Lieutenant Colonel Phillip Cook, from Joint Helicopter Command’s air manoeuvre planning team.

During this period they engaged pro-Gaddafi targets on 39 occasions, using AGM-114 Hellfire laser-guided missiles, rockets and 30 mm cannon. Targets included ground vehicles, main battle tanks, vehicle checkpoints, coastal radar sites and patrol boats being used by pro-Gaddafi forces to deploy mines, Cook said.

Apaches are flown in either two- or four-aircraft strike packages but they have also flown in conjunction with Royal Navy Westland Lynx HMA8 and Sea King 7 helicopters, which primarily collect intelligence and surveillance date.

Apaches are not the only NATO helicopters operating over Libya – France has deployed its army’s Eurocopter Tigers from the French navy command ship Tonnerre.
“Our aim is to maximise the effect that both helicopter strike groups can provide,” Cook said. “The employment of the Apache has provided a visual demonstration of NATO’s resolve, and furnished it with additional options in terms of strike assets. Their use has increased the sense of risk and uncertainty in the minds of the pro-regime leaders and forces and had a valuable psychological effect.”

Several Apache strikes have taken place since July 3, according to the UK Ministry of Defence: on July 5, Apaches struck check points and vehicle patrols which were restricting civilian freedom of movement along the main coastal road around Al Khums. Missile, rocket and cannon fire were used to severely damage or destroy a fixed check point, two military vehicles, and a regime strongpoint. Fleet Air Arm Sea Kings provided surveillance radar support to the attack helicopters.

During the weekend of July 2/3, HMS Ocean’s Apaches targeted positions at Zuwarah airfield. Four armed vehicles and a command post were successfully attacked using Hellfire missiles and cannon fire. Fleet Air Arm Sea King helicopters provided radar surveillance for the Apache strike.

A fifth Apache is now aboard HMS Ocean, having been transported to the region using a Royal Fleet Auxiliary vessel, according to Flight International. HMS Ocean will at some stage in the future be replaced by the HMS Illustrious commando assault ship (the former Harrier aircraft carrier, which has just returned from a 40 million pound refit). HMS Illustrious will carry up to 20 helicopters and 600 Royal Marines on deployment.