By By Andrew Drwiega, Military Editor | April 2, 2012
British Apache attack helicopters operating from HMS Ocean during NATO’s Operation Unified Protector over Libya had a "cognitive effect" on the minds of Col. Gaddafi’s military commanders, according to Group Capt. Peter Squires, commanding officer of the United Kingdom’s 906 Expeditionary Air Wing at the time.
On March 27 at the RAF Club in London, Capt. Squires addressed a private gathering of the Air Power Association with an briefing on the Royal Air Force’s contribution to Operation Ellamy, the United Kingdom’s contribution to the NATO enforcement of the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1973.
During the briefing, I asked Squires what he thought the main contribution of the Apaches had been to the fight, considering the overwhelming use of fixed-wing Typhoon and Tornado aircraft.
He said that the effect of the Apache attack helicopters, that between them fired 99 Hellfire missiles and 4,800 30mm cannon rounds hitting over 100 targets, was cognitive on the enemy. But how should this contribution be measured in terms of the overall effect of airpower?
Official Ministry of Defence (MoD) figures state that UK aircraft flew over 3,000 sorties from the beginning of the UK’s involvement on Feb. 22, 2011 for eight months through to the end of the commitment in October. Of these 2,100 were strike sorties with around 640 targets hit. During this time the Apaches of 656 Squadron, 4 Regiment Army Air Corps, flew 22 missions (albeit hitting 100 targets as stated), an apparently high hit rate for the very limited number of missions undertaken. But could the same effect have been achieved by the fast jets that were already being regularly tasked for ground attack missions?
Conversely, were the Apaches (once the Response Force Task Group had been validated in May—including the first live firing of Hellfire at sea) tasked as often as they could have been, or was there a wider agenda at work that demanded that the RAF “demonstrate” the Eurofighter Typhoon’s capability during a highly publicised operation—with the MoD releasing successful strike stories on virtually a daily basis. The Typhoon is one of the UK’s main defence export hopes of course, and if that had been the motivation, then its contribution to the Libyan campaign was lost on the Indian government who, in February this year, made a decision to buy 126 of France’s Dassault Rafales for the Indian Air Force instead of the EADS Eurofighter.
The majority of the Libyan population is centred along the main coastal strip and many of the engagements occurred within range of the sea-based Apaches onboard HMS Ocean. Although Apaches were engaged by small arms fire and man-portable surface-to-air missiles (SA-24), none were shot down. Operating from a mobile base meant that the Apaches ranged along the Libyan coastline during the months of June, July and into August. Some missions even saw the helicopters teamed with the Tornado GR4s and Typhoons.
Without doubt the night-attack capability of the Apaches, together with the precision of the Hellfire and effect of the 30mm gun on mobile targets, contributed to the overall overwhelming of the pro-Gaddafi Libyan forces.
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