An air defence unit has taken its first shot at working within the British Army’s rapid reaction force.

12 (Minden) Air Assault Battery, 12 Regiment Royal Artillery has been on Salisbury Plain for Exercise Wessex Storm. The gunners deployed High Velocity Missiles (HVM) to protect Keevil Airfield, which was home to Apache, Lynx, Merlin and Chinook helicopters of the Joint Helicopter Command, flying in support of infantry units.

HVM is designed to provide defence against low-flying helicopters and aircraft to a range of five and a half kilometres, guided by passive sensors that give no warning to the enemy that they are being targeted. It fires three tungsten darts at three and a half times the speed of sound, designed to knock down targets through the force of an impact.

During the exercise, Apache attack helicopters, operated by 4 Regiment Army Air Corps, carried out a mock attack on the airfield.

Bombardier Aaron Edwards, 23 from Blackpool, said: “Our equipment  is primarily designed to target attack helicopters and the Apache is recognised as the most sophisticated aircraft of that type, so this has been a perfect opportunity to train against each other.

“The Apaches were flying at low level trying to attack the airfield without being detected and engaged, and our aim was to target the aircraft before it could strike. I would say that it finished 2-1 to us, but I’m sure they would score it differently!”

12 Battery, based at Thorney Island in Hampshire, has recently taken on the role of providing air defence to 16 Air Assault Brigade, which maintains a battlegroup at high readiness to deploy anywhere in the world to conduct the full range of military operations.

Captain Glyn Forster, the unit’s operations officer, said: “We are the only battery in the Army providing light role air defence and, below us, the only defence against air attacks is a soldier with a machine gun. “This is the first time we have deployed on an exercise that has air defence worked into the scenario. Since the Falklands, the British Army has not had to deal with a credible air threat on operations and we are looking to redevelop  the air defence capability, both our own skills and the understanding in other units of the threat and how to work with us.”

“Currently we can deploy by helicopter and are working towards an airborne capability, so we would be able to parachute in and provide immediate air defence on a drop zone.”

Exercise Wessex Storm saw the British Army’s airborne and armoured reaction forces come together, with the fast and light forces of 16 Air Assault Brigade training with slower but more powerful troops from 12 Armoured Infantry Brigade. It placed troops in a scenario where the airborne infantry of 3rd Battalion The Parachute Regiment had carried out the theatre entry phase of an operation and is clearing the way for 1st Battalion Scots Guards, a mechanised infantry unit, to take over.

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