Army Apache helicopters, launched from HMS Illustrious off the Scottish coast, have fired tank-busting Hellfire missiles in the UK for the first time, during one of the biggest military exercises of the year.
Two Apache helicopters from 656 Squadron Army Air Corps (AAC) fired one Hellfire missile each at a training target positioned by HMS Illustrious in the sea off northern Scotland during the first of this year’s two Joint Warrior war games.
Although the anti-armour missile has been used in combat by British forces in Afghanistan and Libya, this is the first time that Apache pilots have fired live missiles in the UK.
As well as training the Apache pilots themselves, the firings also allowed the crew of HMS Illustrious to practise safely delivering the missiles from the ship’s weapon magazines to the helicopters on the flight deck – just as their counterparts on HMS Ocean did off Libya when the fearsome gunships struck at Colonel Gaddafi’s war machine with pinpoint accuracy.
“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,” said HMS Illustrious’s Commanding Officer, Captain Martin Connell.
Major Piers Lewis, Officer Commanding 656 Squadron AAC, added:
“The Army Air Corps’ 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 regiment and squadron forged excellent links with HMS Ocean last year and are now forging similarly strong links with Illustrious.”
The Apaches and Illustrious are two pieces in the enormous ‘jigsaw’ that is the latest Joint Warrior exercise taking place at various locations from the top of Scotland to its south western tip, and involving more than 8,000 participants from half-a-dozen nations.
Of the 30-plus warships and auxiliaries, 15 are British, with the Royal Navy and Royal Marines – the latter spearheaded by 3 Commando Brigade and 45 Commando – comprising around just short of half of the total forces involved.
Joint Warrior is due to reach its climax in the next couple of days around West Freugh, just south of Stranraer, but when it concludes Illustrious will remain in the area to support Exercise Scottish Lion, which is also played out in South West Scotland and involves 45 Commando.