Ex Cougar 12, Army’s Apaches Take to the High Seas

Ex COUGAR 12 was the deployment of a Maritime Task Group element of the Response Force Task Group (RFTG). Its primary purpose was to generate and maintain contingent capability whilst supporting defence engagement and regional capacity building. It also provided an excellent opportunity to conduct joint operations with the US, French and Albanian Armed Forces in addition to developing the Combined Joint Expeditionary Force (CJEF) concept. Training in the Mediterranean and Adriatic seas saw the Task Group link up with the French aircraft carrier FS Charles de Gaulle and carrying out large scale amphibious landings. COUGAR 12 will seek to build on the operational lessons identified from Ex COUGAR 11 in addition to the training objectives achieved during Ex COLD RESPONSE and Ex JOINT WARRIOR earlier this year. Aviation is essential to the RFTG and JHC supported the exercise with 2 x Apache, 2 x CH47 Chinook Mk2, 4 x Sea King Mk4 and 2 x Lynx Mk7 embarked on HMS ILLUSTRIOUS. The Commando Helicopter Force provided a command element in the form of Joint Helicopter Force (Cougar) (JHF(C)) embarked on HMS BULWARK. The exercise provided the JHF(C) with a consolidated period of training at range from the UK and represented a significant step forward in the recovery of contingent and Littoral Manoeuvre capability. 

Apache attack helicopters from 656 Sqn, 4 Regt AAC set sail on HMS Illustrious to provide the cutting edge of the RFTG. The exercise will see the Apaches from Wattisham, provide an aviation strike capability for the flotilla of warships and embarked Royal Marines.

After landing on HMS Illustrious, the Apaches flew top cover for Royal Marines practising beach landings in Cornwall before the task force headed south for the main exercise.

Apaches have been a permanent presence in the hot, high and dusty conditions of Afghanistan since 2006 but operating the helicopter from the confined spaces of HMS Illustrious in wet and salty sea air provides a very different challenge.

Maj Piers Lewis, OC 656 Sqn, said: “Working alongside the RN and Royal Marines is an excellent opportunity to develop the capabilities of the Apache attack helicopters. Flying and maintaining the Apache from ships is a complex task that asks a lot of both pilots and ground crew. This is the third time since 2010 that 656 Sqn has been onboard RN ships, and our techniques and tactics are maturing with each deployment.”

The training builds on the partnership between 16 Bde’s Apaches and the RN forged on operations over Libya when in summer 2011 Apaches from 656 Sqn flew missions from HMS Ocean as part of NATO’s Operation UNIFIED PROTECTOR.

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