The Royal Navy’s helicopter carrier HMS Ocean has operated British Army Apaches firing Hellfire missiles for the first time at sea.
The Plymouth-based warship supported this significant milestone in proving the capability of the attack helicopter Apache to operate and strike from the sea. The Apaches successfully fired 30mm-cannon and Hellfire missiles against seaborne targets in a long-planned exercise near Gibraltar while based on the amphibious warship.
In total, 550 rounds of 30mm and nine radar-guided Hellfire missiles were fired, achieving a 100% strike rate – the first time Hellfire has been launched in the maritime environment.
The last two weeks have seen a succession of ‘firsts’ for the Army Air Corps (AAC) Attack Helicopter Force at sea. Currently deployed onboard HMS Ocean, the Royal Navy’s largest warship, 656 Squadron from 4 Regiment AAC have spent the past few weeks conducting intensive training that will allow them to operate by day and by night.
Major Mike Neville (AAC), who commands 656 Sqn onboard HMS Ocean, said: “Today we proved that Apache can operate effectively from a Royal Navy ship, transporting munitions from the ship’s 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. We are now well on the way to proving the maritime strike capability in highly complex scenarios.” Despite the majority of 656 Squadron having served in Afghanistan, the maritime environment presents new challenges, including understanding shipborne life and learning new procedures for the preparation and movement of ammunition from the ship’s magazine to the deck, efficiently and safely. In combination with successful live firing exercises, 656 Squadron has formed a firm base on which to develop their maritime role.
Commander Jol Woodard, Royal Navy, the commanding officer of HMS Ocean’s air group, said: “Today’s achievement is a landmark in the integration of the Apache into the maritime domain and is also a very important step in the development of the UK’s amphibious capability. I have been delighted with the way in which 656 Sqn and their support elements have integrated into the air group as a whole and the success of this whole-ship evolution demonstrates just how potent a truly joint air group can be.”
Captain Andrew Betton, Royal Navy, HMS Ocean’s commanding officer said: “HMS Ocean is the UK’s only dedicated amphibious helicopter carrier and it is fitting that we provided the platform from which the Army Air Corps have made history. 656 Squadron have fully integrated themselves onboard the ship and are an integral part of HMS Ocean’s ship’s company.”
Secretary of State for Defence, Dr Liam Fox said: “This important milestone in Army aviation and amphibious operations demonstrates clearly the versatility of our cutting edge military equipment. To see Apache operating to its full capacity at sea reinforces the Government’s commitment to shape and equip our armed forces to best meet the range of current and future commitments.”
656 Squadron and HMS Ocean are part of the Response Force Task Group (RFTG), deployed on Cougar 11 which is a long-planned series of exercises in the Mediterranean and Middle East. RFTG is a new initiative announced in last year’s Strategic Defence and Security Review and is the heart of the UK’s maritime contingent capability, held at very high readiness to respond to unexpected global events
Initially, the Task Group will demonstrate its amphibious capabilities through multi-national exercises in the Mediterranean, before conducting further exercises in the Indian Ocean and Arabian Gulf. The task group is commanded from the Plymouth-based Fleet Flagship, HMS Albion, by Commodore John Kingwell Royal Navy, Commander United Kingdom Task Group.