Missile Success for Army Helicopters at Sea


Army Apache attack helicopters flying from HMS Illustrious have fired tank-busting Hellfire missiles in the UK for the first time.

Two Apaches from Wattisham-based 4 Regt AAC fired one Hellfire missile each at a training target in the sea off Northern Scotland, where HMS Illustrious was taking part in the multinational Exercise Joint Warrior.

Although the Hellfire has been used in combat in Afghanistan and Libya, this is the first time that the Apache has fired live missiles in the UK. As well as training the Apache pilots, the firings also allowed the crew of HMS Illustrious to practice safely delivering the missiles from the ship’s weapon magazines to the helicopters on the flight deck.

The training builds on the partnership established between the Army’s Apaches and the Royal Navy. Last year Apaches from 4 Regt AAC’s 656 Squadron flew strike missions over Libya from HMS Ocean as part of NATO’s Operation UNIFIED PROTECTOR. On 22 missions the Apaches hit more than 100 targets, firing 99 Hellfire missiles and 4,800 30mm cannon rounds.

Maj Piers Lewis, who commands 656 Squadron, said: “The Army’s Apache crews are comfortable operating in all environments and this has once again demonstrated our ability to fire Hellfire from sea having launched from HMS Illustrious. The Army Air Corps and Squadron forged excellent links with HMS Ocean last year – and are now forging similarly strong links with Illustrious.”

CO HMS Illustrious, Capt Martin Connell, said: “The Hellfire missile firings conducted from HMS Illustrious once again proved, as HMS Ocean did so effectively last year off Libya, that the potent combination of Apache helicopter and Hellfire missile can be successfully delivered by a UK Warship at sea.”

As well as carrying Apaches, Illustrious also had on board Merlin and Sea King Helicopters along with a company of Royal Marines from Arbroath-based 45 Commando. Exercise Joint Warrior, which took place across Scotland, involved more than 8,000 troops from half-a-dozen nations and 30-plus warships and auxiliaries.

The two-week long exercise started with troops from Colchester-based 16 Air Assault Brigade seizing the airfield at West Freugh, south of Stranrear, in parachute, air assault, and tactical air landings. It culminated with 45 Commando carrying out an amphibious landing on the beaches of West Freugh, with Apaches flying top cover.

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