Apaches and HMS Ocean and Libya

Apache Attack Helicopter Takes Off from HMS Ocean

Image by Defence Images via Flickr

So, the Government have announced that Army Air Corps Apache’s will be joining the fray in Libya, along with French Tigers.

A couple of things spring to mind here. Firstly, it adds to suspicions that the COUGAR Task Group exercising around Cyprus were sent to the region to possibly work up for action in Libya. Even if not, a half-decent task force is at least nearby, a la First Flotilla at Gibraltar in 1982.

Secondly, that the use of Apaches from a Helicopter Carrier undermines the SDSR. Has it occured to anyone else that flying close air support, vertical flight aircraft from a Royal Navy flat top was discounted less than a year ago?

And finally… note that the Aircraft are ARMY, flying off a NAVY vessel. The ship can get in as close as it wants, anti-air and anti-ship defence pending, and the Apaches are there for giving close support to the anti-Gadaffi forces. No RAF involvement at all. Interesting to hear what the RAF PR department make of that one.

Interestingly, only days later there was a high-profile press release about the RAF getting ‘bunker-busting’ bombs for use in Libya. All the analysis seems to be, however, that the inability of the rebels to take the offensive to Gadaffi is their lack of heavy weapons on the battlefield. Something I can imagine the Apaches helping with a lot. Shame we can only put in three of them – imagine a full Squadron…

PS – any speculation about whether a certain well-known Apache pilot is out there?….



Filed under Army, Navy, News

43 responses to “Apaches and HMS Ocean and Libya

  1. Yes, it really does seem like an admission that the last minute SDSR decisions really go things wrong.

  2. John Erickson

    So your Army flies the Apache, instead of the RAF? Didn’t realise that – thanks for the tidbit. Like I said before, pity we didn’t leave Kearsarge there. Coulda launched a bunch of helos AND had Harriers. Then again, that might have been TOO embarrassing. Maybe THAT is why our Navy yanked her back home! 😀

    • James Daly

      Yep, the Apaches are AAC. To cut a very long story very short, the Army needs to operate its own close air support for battlefield interdiction, as that’s not something the RAF is too fussed about providing.. It’s a shame when you look back at the Typhoons and Hurri-bombers of WW2, but the primary motivation of the RAF in all things is its own independence, and it sees that best served by promoting strategic air defence.

      But hopefully this development shows that Air Power does not necessarily = RAF.

    • John Erickson

      Did the RAF and the Army do a deal similar to our military, where the Army flies close-support rotary wing while the RAF does the fixed wing (like our Apache vs our A-10)? I hope it isn’t with the stupid “no wings” clause that cost us the Cheyenne. There are some new “compound” helos coming down the pike, and I’d hate to see that idiotic separation cost the Army some good, fast attack helos. (Man, what the Cheyenne could’ve done in ‘Nam!) And, since they’ve started arming Ospreys, I’m waiting for somebody to suggest an AC-130-like gunship variant, and that should prove an interesting battle over custody. Always fun!

      • James Daly

        Yeah I think its similar to that. British military aviation has always been, in my opinion, a mess. You would think that the Royal AIR Force could be relied on to take care of all aviation, but its telling that the AAC and the FAA have to exist to ensure that their respective services are not left short. The Army and the RAF do not need to operate their own ships, after all.

        It says it all that whenever the RAF has been forced to drop an aircraft in recent years, it has always been the less glamorous interdiction platforms that go – Jaguar and then Harrier. We hear all kinds of justifications but none of them stand up to scruting for me. We don’t have anywhere near enough battlefield support helicopters, for example, but more Typhoons than we know what to do with.

        One new(ish) development with British rotary wing aviation is the Joint Helicopter Command, formed to try and rationalise helicopter strategy and assets across the three services. It could be seen as divide and rule from the MOD, but its one example of ‘jointery’ seems to make sense to me.

      • John Erickson

        I could see a joint helo command for our forces. Considering that not only do the Army and the Navy/Marines operate them, but the Air Force just got shot down (pardon the pun) on a purchase of Blackhawks for their use. Considering that, not long ago, we had the CH-46 for the Navy, the CH-47 for the Army, and the CH-53 for the Marines, all doing the “heavy lift” job, shows we could use some sort of sense. I won’t even get into the “middle lift” area where we have Hueys and Jet Rangers, a wide variety of Blackhawk models, and a menagerie of European imports trying to cover Army, Navy, Marine, Coast Guard, and Homeland Defense needs. So much for the Blackhawk being the “universal” helo for the US forces!

        • James Daly

          Going back twenty to thirty years rotary wing aviation was riven with silo working*. We had the Royal Navy operating AEW and ASW Sea Kings, Sea Kings for the Royal Marines and Lynxes off the escort ships (Merlin came on stream a while back). RAF running Chinooks, Pumas and Sea Kings (and now Merlins) and the Army flying Lynxes and now Apaches.

          It stands to reason that it makes sense to pool helos as much as possible, and allocate them according to need and putting aside single service narrow-thinking. Commonality across the services means savings and shared expertise in support, logistics, spare parts, increased flexibility and potential for greater inter-service working.

          * If anyones not sure what silo working means, its the current buzz word for remaining esconced in your own little empire and to hell with the ones next door.

        • John Erickson

          (Sigh.) Mentioning common sense and the military in the same post. Tsk, tsk, tsk. When WILL you ever learn, Mr. Daly? 😉

  3. x

    When the Daily Telegraph first covered Apache in Libya they billed it as “RAF showcase Apache helicopter amid Libya rumours.”

    To be honest I don’t hold with the RAF must fly everything argument. Aircraft are just vehicles. The ASW helicopter or FJ squadron are extensions of their ships’ systems. And I think for that system to work at its best the crews of those aircraft need to belong to the same “culture” as the ship’s crew.

    You can never criticise the pro-land based air power lobby for a lack of knowledge about aeroplanes and weapons. They do seem as a group oddly bereft of the realities of international conventions, politics, etc. And they do like to gloss over any shortcomings of their beloved mode of deploying airpower. Indeed they will even dress them up as virtues. Look at the current operation. I have seen the word epic used to describe the initial raids. Yet I know lots of people who have flown to the Mediterranean! I should hope a fit pilot that is the product of nearly £10million pounds worth of training should be able to fly to friendly airspace to deliver what was 6 StormShadow? And then there was all the guff over the size of the convoys from the UK to Italy, how long it took, and the distance covered. If you don’t know anything about logistics or ships I suppose they were big figures. But if you know anything about those subjects it was embarrassing. Is this really strategic air power? Where are the French flying from? They are much closer geographically. Are they flying from Corsica? No. Southern Italy? No. They flying from their carrier….

    I hope the MoD have plans in place for the extraction of downed Apache crews.

    Remember: The Army is a weapon best fired by the Navy! 🙂


  4. Yeah – anyone would think that a land based deployment has no logistic tail….

  5. x

    I wouldn’t mind knowing if the campaign has had any sizeable impact on import of AVCAT into Italy. Indeed I wonder what the capacity Italy has for refining. In GW1 remember the US was importing AVCAT into the Gulf. Into the Gulf!!!

    Over at Think Defence the frequent commentator Gabrielle (a young Italian with a scarily profound knowledge of the UK defence establishment) came up with a very good point. To paraphrase he said just because the UK has made mistakes in the past it is no excuse to make poor decisions in the future. Typhoon is entering mid-life. The RAF may have lots of fast jets but only 30 are on the front line in benign air spaces. Yet the pro-land bods scoff at the idea of CVF having an air group of 36 F35; even if they only deploy with 12 it is a third of what the RAF can currently deploy. FSTA is a joke. For the £489million per anum FTSA cost the MoD could buy 2 fleet tankers per year, pay for their operation, and fill them with fuel. All FJ pilots come down the same training pipe. One would humbly suggest it is time to divert the pipe towards the FAA and invest in CVF. Tomorrow’s war won’t be a two day drive away to the other side of Europe.

  6. x

    The current issue of Air Forces monthly has an article on the the sustainability of the Libyan campaign. I haven’t read it yet I am saving it for Sunday in case I choke laughing. I will have plenty time of time to get to A&E and recover for Monday.

    I would like to add I don’t buy Air Forces monthly regularly. When I do I wear a disguise, buy a few more less embarrassing magazines like Playboy, Goat Keepers Monthly, and Scouting for Boys to hide AFM amongst, and shout and often loudly that my name is James Daly and I am from Portsmouth…… 🙂 😉

    • John Erickson

      You can use my name and town of residence, Fresno, instead of embarrassing poor James. After all, his reputation is in front of him, his to ruin. Mine went down in flames YEARS ago! 😀

  7. Oh – we’re now sending ALBION, SUTHRLAND, and two RFAs…


    I thought that Big Dave had said we wouldn’t need to do this this decade….

  8. James Daly

    We all knew it was going to happen! Funny that it hasn’t broken in the mainstream media yet, as it represents a significant upturn in our involvement.

    So, now we have-

    1x LPH, 1X LPD, 1x DD, 1xFF, plus a tanker, auxiliary and a minesweeper. Plus an SSN under the waves somewhere. Basically a fully blown task force. Without a CV. Any word on the two Bay Class that are out there?

    I don’t think that this commitment necessarily means we will be landing troops, as Albion and Ocean between them still represent a limited ship to shore capability. Bulwark is working up at the moment.

    Considering that the majority of 3 Cdo Bde (less one Cdo) are in Afghan, and 16 AA Bde have just returned, land involvement seems unlikely.

  9. x

    Unless the amphibs swing past France to pick up one of their formations……….

  10. All very interesting….

  11. x

    An amphibious landing in Misrata harbour anybody?

    I don’t think they would have to go far just landing would be enough.

    • John Erickson

      Enough for what? Half of Europe and all of Asia to have a first-class shit fit? 😀 (Pardon my French.) That seems to be the only effect we get out of ANYTHING in Libya. (Hence my nostalgia for Nam-style Rolling Thunder.)

  12. x

    I know it won’t happen. But the idea.

  13. x

    Now I have read Apache belongs to the RN……..

  14. Once upon a time, 847 NAS were meant to be getting a few Apaches to replace their Lynx AH7/9. Alas, this never happened, and when the TOW missile was removed from service, they lost their organic attack capabilities (on top of which there is now no Harrier).



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  16. I wonder if the SDSR will be reviewed in the light of Libya, and the utility of Apaches flying from OCEAN in strike roles will be noted? So much for not needing shipborne strike capabilities this decade. Good job the French Navy had the CDG.

    Likewise will the operational use of naval gunfire, submarine launched Tomahawks, minehunters, and other naval assets be noted?

    • James Daly

      It certainly should be, however for political reasons I very much doubt it. The best we can probably hope for is some behind the scenes back-tracking.

      Meanwhile my admiration for the Apache goes up daily. It might be something we have to look at, as at the moment we are not ideally placed to operate them at sea long term, in terms of platforms.

      • John Erickson

        I’d like to hear a few more tactical details, as the war moves much farther inland. It’s one thing to “pop over” from a carrier on the coast to Tripoli – Sirte and the other southern cities are quite a bit more of a haul. It’d be interesting to hear what the loiter times have shrunk to, or how much air-to-air refueling is required to keep the loiter times up. As a US tabloid used to say, “Enquiring minds want to know!” 😀

  17. Good point – another advantage of air assets based aboard ship is that they can move along the coast as needed…

    I think the politicians disline enquiring minds!

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