Ex Joint Warrior 13 British and French Attack Helicopters Build Strong Partnership
The working relationship between the British and French Army’s attack helicopters took off on Ex Joint Warrior. Apaches from the AAC and Gazelles from the French Aviation Légère de l’Armée de Terre forged an operational partnership during demanding training the exercise.
Two missions tested the ability of the attack helicopters to work together. Under British command, Apaches and Gazelles escorted helicopters carrying troops from 2 PARA. The attack helicopters then hit targets on the ground with cannon and missiles to clear the way for the infantry to assault a position. A similar escort mission under French leadership saw targets identified and marked by Gazelles and handed over to Apaches to strike, and vice versa.
Gazelle pilot Capt Pierre-Alain Goujard said: “To be appointed as the Air Mission Comd for such a huge air assault was both an honour and a challenge. How would we deal with target handovers, troop lifts and relief in place all at once? But what could have seemed either over-ambitious or tentative proved to be efficient. Our procedures are near identical, our aircraft have complementary capabilities and, last but not least, language hasn’t been a factor. This training has shown that joint working between French and British attack helicopters is a hard fact, not just politics.”
The Apaches were flown and maintained by soldiers from 656 Sqn, 4 Regt AAC. Officer Commanding Maj Piers Lewis said: “This is the first time we have worked alongside French Gazelles and we’ve really taken forward the integration of our aviation forces. To fly side-by-side on missions and exchange targets between us on our first attempt at joint operations is a fantastic achievement. There’s a natural affinity between pilots and we speak the same vocabulary in the air, which has really enabled us to work together fluently. This exercise has put us in a good place if we are called on to do a joint operation.”
As well as the challenge of working together, pilots and ground crew had to deal with the logistic challenge of contingency operations. Apaches flew out of Carlisle to protect infantry seizing the airfield at West Freugh by parachute and helicopter assault, then landed and flew missions from the airfield.
Maj Lewis said: “As well as the operational challenge of flying a mission, contingency operations provide the parallel logistical complexities of leaving one airfield to operate from another. This is a way of working that operating in Afghanistan has taken us away from and we’ve gone through a lot of trial and error over the last year to re-learn it.”
The attack helicopters were part of the Joint Helicopter Force (Contingency) deployed on Joint Warrior, which also included Royal Navy Sea Kings, Lynx from the Army Air Corps and RAF Chinooks, as well as French Pumas.