Hellfire-first as Apaches exercise with Navy off Scotland

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.

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Army Air Corps Apache heli­copters on HMS Illustrious’s flight deck dur­ing Exer­cise Joint War­rior [Pic­ture: Crown Copyright/MOD 2012]
Source: Min­istry of Defence, UK
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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.

Press release
Min­istry of Defence, UK