British Army Westland/Boeing Apache AH1 attack helicopters engaged regime targets on 39 occasions during the type's first month of combat use in Libya, the UK Ministry of Defence has revealed.
The first offensive mission was launched from the Royal Navy assault ship HMS Ocean on 3 June, using four Apaches flown by pilots from the Army Air Corps' (AAC) 656 Sqn. The aircraft had been embarked in late April as part of an exercise, before the vessel was moved to off the Libyan coast late the following month.
Apaches flew 13 such missions totalling a combined 30 sorties by 3 July, said Lt Col Phillip Cook, SO1 of the Joint Helicopter Command's air manoeuvre planning team.
During this time they engaged regime targets on a total of 39 occasions, using their Lockheed Martin AGM-114 Hellfire laser-guided air-to-surface missiles, unguided rockets and 30mm 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.
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Army Air Corps Apaches are operating from the deck of HMS Ocean
The Apaches are flown in either a two- or four-aircraft package, with the AAC also having worked in conjunction with French army Eurocopter Tigers flown from the French navy command ship the Tonnerre. They have also received support from RN Westland Lynx HMA8 helicopters and Sea King 7 airborne surveillance and control system aircraft, and from coalition intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance platforms.
"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."
A fifth Apache is also now aboard HMS Ocean, having been transported to the region using a Royal Fleet Auxiliary vessel. The AAC detachment totals almost 90 personnel.