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Navy fliers and commandos work with Apaches

2 March 2020
Royal Marines and Royal Navy aviators are working alongside the British Army’s Apache attack helicopters during winter exercises in the Arctic Circle.

Commandos on the ground are able to call in air support from the potent Apaches, which have been working alongside Commando Helicopter Force Wildcats from 847 Naval Air Squadron in the build up to more sorties on Exercise Cold Response.

In the prelude to Cold Response, commandos worked closely with the Apaches of 656 Squadron on close air support training, while CHF Wildcats used their reconnaissance skills set to track down targets for the Army fliers to come in and destroy.

After making its Arctic debut in 2019, the latest landmark in the Apache’s Arctic missions have seen them fire their Hellfire missiles inside the Arctic Circle for the first time. 

For 656 Squadron, the deployment has been focused on proving its warfighting ability after the Apache made its Arctic debut in early 2019 and leaning on the Arctic flying experience of Commando Helicopter Force.

Officer Commanding Major Huw Raikes said: “Last year the squadron learnt how to operate the Apache in the Arctic. 

“The extreme cold presents unique differences to the way we operate but we developed ways to overcome the human, engineering and flying challenges. 

“This year we have developed news way to fight the aircraft. This has relied immensely on the support of the Royal Navy’s Commando Helicopter Force, who have a long experience of operating in the Arctic that has been generously shared.

“Firing Hellfire missiles for the first time is a significant milestone in proving the capability of the aircraft in this environment; it’s an achievement that everyone in the Squadron has contributed to and can be rightly proud of. 

“We’re now looking forward to flying in support of the Royal Marines and our NATO partners on Exercise Cold Response.”

This has relied immensely on the support of the Royal Navy’s Commando Helicopter Force, who have a long experience of operating in the Arctic that has been generously shared.

Major Huw Raikes

656 Squadron is ready on standby with their Apaches to strike from the air in support of Royal Marines during the Norwegian-led Cold Response, which 15,000 troops from ten nations are involved in. 

The Hellfire is a precision missile used to strike ground and maritime targets; the Apache is able to carry up to 16 missiles.

The live fire ranges saw groundcrew establish a Forward Arming and Refuelling Point (FARP) – the military equivalent of a Formula 1 pit stop – to load missiles and 30mm cannon ammunition on to Apaches. Wildcat battlefield reconnaissance helicopters provided target identification and designation with their powerful suite of sensors, with the missiles fired at barges both moored and moving in the Norwegian Sea.

Aviation communications specialist Lance Corporal Joshua Bulpin said: “The Arctic is a very demanding environment and, given our role, it’s vital that we have the experience of working in it. Under turning rotors it can get down to -40°C and the extra clothing means it’s that bit harder and slower if I have to work on a radio. To maintain communications with the aircraft, I have to factor in the different terrain and atmospheric conditions and have learnt a lot.”


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