Although the Royal Navy saw its last aircraft carrier retired from service in recent months, a new trial has demonstrated the UK's continued ability to deploy offensive air power from the deck of a surface ship.

The milestone was achieved when Westland/Boeing AH1 Apache attack helicopters from the Army Air Corps' 656 Sqn fired Lockheed Martin AGM-114 Hellfire air-to-surface missiles against targets at sea for the first time.

Operating from the deck of the helicopter carrier HMS Ocean, the aircraft also used their 30mm cannon during an exercise conducted near Gibraltar.

 Apache Hellfire - Royal Navy

Apache cannon - Royal Navy

All images © Royal Navy

"In total, 550 rounds of 30mm and nine radar-guided Hellfire missiles were fired, achieving a 100% strike rate," the Ministry of Defence said in a 13 May statement.

British Army Apaches have previously conducted so-called ship helicopter operating limit trials with an eye to possible future deployment aboard RN vessels, but the recent exercise was intended to increase this, by "conducting intensive training that will allow them to operate by day and by night", the MoD said.

"We proved that Apache can operate effectively from a Royal Navy ship, transporting munitions from the ship's magazine, aircraft upload, launch, firing and then recovering to HMS Ocean," 656 Sqn commander Maj Mike Neville said. "We are now well on the way to proving the maritime strike capability in highly complex scenarios."

 HMS Ocean crop - Royal Navy

A modified version of the US Army's Boeing AH-64D Apache Longbow, the UK's Apache AH1 model, is powered by two Rolls-Royce/Turbomeca RTM322 engines. The MoD acquired 67 of the type, which is also currently deployed in Afghanistan. Flightglobal's HeliCAS database lists 58 of the fleet as being in operational use.

Source: Flight International