Soldiers who fly and maintain the potent Apache attack helicopter are preparing for a major exercise to demonstrate the British Army’s ability to rapidly deploy in support of UK allies.
The Apaches of 3 Regiment Army Air Corps, bolstered with Wildcat reconnaissance helicopters and RAF Chinook support helicopters, will be among more than 2,500 British troops taking part in Exercise Defender Europe 20.
The pilots and groundcrew of 3 Regt AAC’s 662 Squadron, based at Wattisham Flying Station in Suffolk, have been put through their paces this week ahead of the deployment, which will see them training in Germany and Poland in the spring.
A key activity saw groundcrew set up a refuelling point on the STANTA ranges in Norfolk, flying fuel out in a Chinook to then top up the tanks of Apaches. On operations, these positions – the military equivalent of a Formula 1 pit stop – lengthen the range and loiter time of Apaches as they carry out strike missions in support of troops on the ground.
Corporal Joyde Wilson is in charge of a team of seven soldiers who work to refuel and rearm the helicopters. “Working with Chinooks really takes on what the Apaches can do,” he said. “We can move groundcrew, fuel and ammunition out onto the battlefield to resupply the Apaches and extend their missions.”
Groundcrew specialist Airtrooper Will Steele said: “Working under turning rotors is really loud and windy and you’ve just got to focus on doing your job to the best of your abilities, and trust that the rest of the team are doing their part.”
Defender Europe 20 is a US Army-led exercise involving 35,000 troops from 18 nations. It aims to demonstrate the ability to rapidly surge combat ready forces into and across Europe to support the NATO alliance.
3 Regt AAC’s Commanding Officer Lieutenant Colonel Nick English said: “Exercise Defender Europe is a fantastic opportunity to showcase the Regiment’s equipment and people. We are deploying as an aviation battle group with Apache attack helicopters, Wildcat reconnaissance helicopters and Chinook support helicopters, to bring the full range of find, strike and lift capabilities provided by helicopters.
“We’re deploying by road, sea and air from Wattisham into Europe to work as part of a US Combat Aviation Brigade and give a credible demonstration of our ability to rapidly commit troops in support of, and working alongside, our allies.”
Airtpr Steele said: “I’m looking forward to Defender Europe – it’ll be good to get out on an exercise of this scale to test our own skills and work alongside our US and European colleagues.”