The mission was carefully co-ordinated with other allied air missions by NATO’s air operations centre, based at Poggio in Italy, and in particular was planned alongside an operation by French helicopters from the assault ship Tonnerre.
Major General Nick Pope, the Chief of the Defence Staff’s Strategic Communications Officer, said:
The Apaches were tasked with precision strikes against a regime radar installation and a military checkpoint, both located around Brega. Hellfire missiles and 30mm cannon were used to destroy the targets; the helicopters then returned safely to HMS Ocean.
In the same area, Royal Air Force ground attack aircraft destroyed another military installation, whilst a separate RAF mission successfully attacked two ammunition bunkers at the large Waddan depot in central Libya.
The targets which were prosecuted by the attack helicopters, Tornados and Typhoons had been carefully and rigorously selected; our understanding of the detailed disposition of Colonel Gaddafi’s forces has been improving in a very satisfactory manner, despite their efforts to conceal themselves.
The UK and NATO have been clear throughout this operation that they will use whatever assets and resources are most appropriate to enforce UN Security Council Resolution [UNSCR] 1973 and protect Libyan civilians under threat of attack.
Operations to date have made good progress in securing the no-fly zone and preventing serious loss of life in Misurata and Benghazi. It is therefore now appropriate to employ attack helicopters to help intensify the effect that NATO can deliver at key points against regime forces which continue to threaten their own people.
As yesterday’s operations demonstrate, the capabilities of the Apache complement well the precision strike and reconnaissance missions flown by NATO fast jets.
The Secretary of State for Defence, Dr Liam Fox, said:
This was the first operational mission flown by British Army Apaches at sea. Their deployment from HMS Ocean demonstrates the flexibility of not just the aircraft, but also the Royal Navy’s Response Force Task Group, held at very high readiness for contingency operations around the world.
The additional capabilities now being employed by NATO further reinforce the UK’s enduring commitment and NATO’s determination to enforce UNSCR 1973 and ensure that the people of Libya are free to determine their own future.
The attack helicopter is yet another potent and formidable aircraft type which has now been added to the NATO forces engaged on this operation. Those who are still supporting Colonel Gaddafi would do well to realise that the best way to remove themselves from danger is to understand that their future lies with the Libyan people, not a discredited regime.
The Commander of the Royal Navy’s Response Force Task Group, Commodore James Kingwell, said:
This action highlights NATO’s resolve to protect the Libyan people and it is a further example of the increasing pressure on Colonel Muammar Gaddafi and his regime to recognise the will of the international community and cease attacks on his own people.
The successful and safe operations by Apache attack helicopters required a first class performance by the sailors, soldiers and Royal Marines across the Royal Navy’s Response Force Task Group [RFTG]. I am very proud of all of their work so far which yet again underlines the versatility of this force.
The RFTG brings together a range of assets that, by operating from the sea, gives maximum flexibility to bring our military capabilities to bear wherever they are needed, at short notice, now and in the future. We remain ready for further operations.
The Apache attack helicopters are operated by crews from 656 Squadron, 4 Regiment Army Air Corps, from the Royal Navy helicopter carrier HMS Ocean. Ocean also has embarked a number of supporting Fleet Air Arm helicopters, including Sea King early warning aircraft.
HMS Ocean is one of five Royal Navy ships that have been diverted from a long-planned exercise deployment (Cougar 11) to support the enforcement of UNSCR 1973, demonstrating the adaptability and flexibility of maritime forces.
The task force, known as the Response Force Task Group, is led by Commodore John Kingwell on the flagship HMS Albion, which is equipped with excellent command and control facilities and a range of other capabilities. The ships are escorted by the Type 23 frigate HMS Sutherland, and are supported by the Royal Fleet Auxiliary vessels Wave Knight (carrying fuel) and Fort Rosalie (carrying ammunition and stores).
The RFTG had already proved the use of the attack helicopter in a maritime environment during its exercises in the Mediterranean, including the first test firing at sea by the UK of the Apache’s advanced Hellfire missile.
Other Royal Navy vessels - HMS Liverpool, HMS Brocklesby and HMS Triumph - have previously played major roles in the operation to enforce UNSCR 1973, and remain fully engaged on this task.