Soldiers who fly and maintain the Apache attack helicopter have trained close to home as they prepare to deploy to Afghanistan.
Exercise Pashtun Sword saw 654 Squadron, 4 Regiment Army Air Corps, carrying out the first live firing of the Apache’s 30-millimetre cannon at STANTA (Stanford Training Area) in Norfolk.
Ground crew were tested in rearming and refuelling the Apache at a forward arming and refuelling point – the military equivalent of a Formula 1 pit-stop.
654 Squadron, based at nearby Wattisham Flying Station in Suffolk, leaves for a 4-month tour of Helmand province in a few weeks.
Apaches have been permanently deployed in Afghanistan since 2006, with all live firing training in the UK previously carried out at Otterburn in Northumberland or Castlemartin in Wales.
Major Nick English, Officer Commanding 654 Squadron, said:
We’ve been working towards this tour since March, including training in California and with the units we will deploy with. This exercise is a final polish of our individual skills and drills to ensure we are ready to go.
It’s great to use STANTA because it’s outside our back door and we can train while staying at home in Wattisham. The logistics are easier and it’s important to give everyone as much time as possible with their families before we go away for 4 months.
The Apache’s role in Afghanistan is to protect troops on the ground, as well as other helicopters and land convoys, and provide a near all-weather precision strike capability.
STANTA is maintained by the Defence Infrastructure Organisation (DIO), which is responsible for managing and maintaining MOD’s land and properties. At 35 square miles the ranges cover 2% of Norfolk and are used 350 days every year by an average of 80,000 troops.
Lieutenant Colonel Tony Powell, Deputy Commander DIO Operations Training East, said:
DIO’s priority is to support our Armed Forces as they prepare for operations. The size and nature of STANTA means that it offers excellent training facilities, ideal conditions and the perfect setting for specialised exercises such as these.
The Apache attack helicopter entered service with the British Army in 2001 and is flown on operations by 3 and 4 Regiments of the Army Air Corps. The 2 units have provided a continuous presence in Afghanistan since 2006 on rotation.