Using British attack helicopters in Libya under NATO command against Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi’s forces is risky but necessary, said the defence minister.
“It is quite right that if we use attack helicopters there is an increased risk, they fly at far lower heights than the fast jets would, and obviously at lower speeds…and they are more susceptible,” Defence Secretary Liam Fox BBC television in an interview.
“That is why in taking that decision we have looked at all the variables; (including) the risk to our service personnel which is always very key,” he added.
NATO officials have said four British Apache attack helicopters are available aboard the assault ship HMS Ocean in the Mediterranean as well as four French Tigres aboard the French helicopter carrier Tonnerre, Reuters reports.
On Friday the commander of NATO’s operations in Libya, Lieutenant-General Charles Bouchard, said the French and British helicopters would be put into action as soon as they are ready.
Ministers gave clearance in principle for the use of Apaches last week and said NATO could now call on them.
Military analysts say Apache attack helicopters will allow more precise strikes against forces in built-up areas, while reducing the risk of civilian casualties.
Bouchard has said their deployment would not presage the deployment of ground forces in Libya, which Western countries have ruled out.
Fox denied use of helicopters marked a stepping up of the country’s engagement in the campaign.
“It’s not an escalation, we’ve been using fast jets with fairly complex weapons to degrade the command-and-control capability of the regime to diminish their ammunition stores, to deal with their fuel supplies and so on,” Fox said.
“Therefore using helicopters is not really an escalation of that.”
Asked whether he was confident Gaddafi would go in the end, he replied: “He will go sooner or later and the calculation for those around him is how long they continue to invest in someone who ultimately will be a loser.”