British and French attack helicopters conducted their first strikes in support of NATO’s Operation Unified Protector in Libya overnight on 3-4 June, the nations’ defence ministries have confirmed.

The UK in late May committed four Army Air Corps Westland/Boeing Apache AH1s to its Operation Ellamy contribution to the coalition campaign against forces loyal to Libyan leader Col Muammar Gaddafi. These have been deployed for the first time offensively aboard the Royal Navy helicopter carrier HMS Ocean.

“The Apaches were tasked with precision strikes against a regime radar installation and a military checkpoint, both located around Brega,” the UK Ministry of Defence said. “Hellfire missiles and 30mm cannon were used to destroy the targets; the helicopters then returned safely to HMS Ocean.

 Apache cannon - Royal Navy
© Royal Navy
British Army Apaches used their 30mm cannon during the strikes

French army Eurocopter Tigers also saw action in Libya for the first time, operating from the navy’s command vessel the Tonnerre along with armed SA341/342 Gazelles. Along with the action conducted by UK forces and French naval vessels, more than 20 targets were prosecuted in total, the French defence ministry said.

 Tiger Tonnerre - French MoD

Libya strike footage - French MoD

Both images © French defence ministry

“The targets struck included military vehicles, military equipment and fielded forces,” said NATO. “The use of attack helicopters provides the NATO operation with additional flexibility to track and engage pro-Gaddafi forces who deliberately target civilians and attempt to hide in populated areas,” it added.

Also involved were Royal Air Force Eurofighter Typhoons and Panavia Tornado GR4 strike aircraft, which destroyed another military installation near Brega and also made fresh attacks on a major ammunition storage site at Waddan.

“As yesterday’s operations demonstrate, the capabilities of the Apache complement well the precision strike and reconnaissance missions flown by NATO fast jets,” the UK MoD said. Its attack helicopters are being operated by personnel from the Army Air Corps’ 656 Sqn, home based at Wattisham airfield in Suffolk, England.

NATO on 1 June extended the mandate for its Unified Protector campaign by a further 90 days. The coalition operation to protect Libyan civilians from attack by pro-Gaddafi forces was launched in mid-March, with NATO having taken sole command of the activity late the same month.