UK Apache Fires Hellfire at Sea from HMS OCEAN
May 2011 saw a succession of ‘firsts’ for the Army Air Corps Attack Helicopter Force in the maritime environment. While deployed as part of the Tailored Air Group in HMS OCEAN, 656 Squadron from 4 Regiment AAC had spent two weeks conducting work-up training to allow them to operate at the highest operational tempo, by day and by night.
A significant milestone in realising this capability was achieved on 3rd May following the successful firing of 30mm cannon and Hellfire missiles against seaborne targets in an exercise area off the North African coast. In total, 550 rounds of 30mm and nine Hellfire missiles were fired, achieving a 100% strike rate. This was the first time that Hellfire had been launched in the maritime environment, proving the capability of Apache as an embarked strike asset, a milestone in the evolution of the AH Force maritime strike capability.
OC 656 Sqn, Major Mike Neville AAC, said: “This was the first time that an embarked Apache has fired Hellfire at sea. We proved a whole-ship evolution from transporting munitions from the magazine, aircraft upload, launch, firing and then recovering to HMS OCEAN. Once again 656 Squadron is at the leading edge of Attack Helicopter capability development, having originally embarked in 2004 and 2005 and most recently in HMS ARK ROYAL during JOINT WARRIOR in October 2010. We are now well on the way to proving the maritime strike capability.”
Tailored Air Group Commanding Officer, Commander Jol Woodard RN said: “I have been delighted with the way in which 656 Sqn and their support elements have integrated into the air group as a whole – which includes Sea King Mk4 and Lynx Mk7 aircraft from the Commando Helicopter Force and a Lynx Mk8 from the Royal Navy’s Lynx Helicopter Force – and the success of today’s whole-ship evolution demonstrates just how potent a truly Joint air group can be.”
The maritime environment presents many new challenges. Understanding this environment and learning new procedures for the preparation and movement of ammunition from the Ship’s magazine to the deck, efficiently and safely, was no small achievement. In combination with the successful live firing aspect of the exercise, 656 Squadron have established a firm base on which to develop their maritime role.