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From facing the threat of air defence missiles to refuelling from the back of a Hercules transport aircraft, the soldiers who fly and maintain the Apache attack helicopter have been training for the next operational challenges.
4 Regiment Army Air Corps (4 Regt AAC), based at Wattisham Flying Station in Suffolk, has been on Salisbury Plain for Exercise Wessex Storm. The unit deployed in command of an Aviation Task Force of nine helicopters and some 250 soldiers, controlling Apache, Lynx, Merlin and Chinooks flying in support of infantry training on the ground.
The exercise is a key milestone in the shift for 4 Regt AAC from operating the Apache in Afghanistan to preparing for future operations anywhere in the world as part of the British Army’s rapid reaction forces. The three Apaches on the exercise were from 4 Regt AAC’s 664 Squadron, which deployed on a four month tour of Afghanistan at the beginning of the year.
Major Simon Wilsey, Officer Commanding 664 Sqn, said: “The difference between this exercise and Afghanistan is striking. Camp Bastion was a comfortable place to operate from with stable work patterns, but the operations we are training for now is very different. Aircrew have to relearn the conventional tactics and techniques, flying at hedgerow height to avoid air defence systems while using our sights and sensors to find targets.
“At the base we’re living under ponchos and using our basic soldiering skills, while the ground crew have been presented with the challenge of creating a functional airfield from what was an empty field when we arrived.”
A key test for ground crew was running an Air Landed Aircraft Refuelling Point (ALARP), which saw an RAF C-130 Hercules land at night to refuel helicopters from a fuel bladder in its hold.
Airtrooper Michael Moran, 28 from Southampton, said: “I deployed to Afghanistan this year and this exercise has been a very different style of working. This is the future – we don’t know where we’ll be going and what logistic support there will be, so it’s important we can operate tactically and in austere conditions.
“When we arrived we had to set up our living and working accommodation, thinking about being able to defend ourselves as well as operating the helicopters.”
Exercise Wessex Storm saw the British Army's airborne and armoured reaction forces come together, with the fast and light forces of 16 Air Assault Brigade training with slower but more powerful troops from 12 Armoured Infantry Brigade. It placed troops in a scenario where the airborne infantry had carried out the theatre entry phase of an operation and cleared the way for heavier mechanised forces to take over.
Photographs by Corporal Andy Reddy.
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British Army Press Release Dated 21 Nov 2014