Brits Deploying Apache Choppers on Carriers Off Libya

So the Brits may have lost their ability to launch fighters from ships with the retirement of the aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal but that hasn’t stopped the Royal Navy from finding a stopgap power projection system until the Queen Elizabeth class supercarriers are commissioned. Apparently, the Royal Navy and British Army have re-qualified the AH-64 Apache (known as the AH1 in the U.K.) to operate from ships.

Three Apaches were originally embarked on Ocean as part of an exercise aimed at giving the fleet some ability to project carrier-launched air power since the Ark Royal’s Harrier jump jets were retired along with the ship. Now, the Ocean is sailing off the coast of Libya with the attack helicopters on-board (pictured above).

These birds are part of the Anglo-French force of attack helos that are may-or-may not be set to strike targets belonging to Moammar Gadhafi’s government in Libya. If the Apaches join the fray, this will mark a new phase of the Libyan conflict, coming on the heels of some of the heaviest NATO air strikes yet against Gadhafi.

From Aviation Week’s Ares blog:

What started out as an exercise is now turning into something more. The British government has apparently decided to deploy the rotorcraft to Libya, to help rebels in the area of Misurata in their fight against Libyan government forces.

The move is a big escalation for the British after weeks in which sustained attacks on Libyan government positions and Col. Gadddafi’s leadership compounds failed to generate any major breakthrough.

Only three Apaches are deployed on HMS Ocean, but the government has apparently authorized at least one more to be dispatched there with two more on standby, reports the Daily Telegraph.

If deployed, the choppers would perform a similar role as the handful of U.S. drones that have been striking Gadhafi’s troops for just over a month now; loitering close to the ground in urban areas where they can easily identify and kill enemy soldiers who are deliberately hiding among civilians.

While strikes by fast jets have eliminated Gadhafi’s fleet of fixed wing aircraft and anti aircraft batteries along with seriously reducing the number of command and control bunkers, ammo dumps, artillery and armored vehicles, the regime is still holding the rebels in check by adopting assymetric tactics to hide its remaining firepower from NATO strike jets and pummel the rebels. The addition of at least three Apaches and an unknown number of French Tiger attack helos embarked on the Mistral class assault ship Tonnerre will no doubt allow NATO put even more pressure on Gadhafi’s forces that try to hide from air strikes.

The Apaches and Tigers carry more weapons (cannons, rockets and Hellfire missiles) than the drones and they put aircrew in the thick of the fight. Yes, this exposes NATO to human losses but it also allows for potentially quicker target identification and decisions on how and when to pull the trigger.


  • paperpushermj

    This mission has gone far beyond its original definition. I have no idea what we are doing in Libya and frankly it’s starting to Pi$$ me off.

  • Sanem

    drone wannabes, buy more drones!

  • marcase

    Re-call – the Brits just reported that there were plans to deploy embarked helos to Libya, but not an actual deployment. Apparently the Admiralty is quite p*ssed at the French for disclosing it.

    Labour MPs were annoyed that they may have been ill-informed, and that put HMs government in a bit of a huss.

    Again; just plans for a possible deployment, no action (yet).

  • STemplar

    This is all good for Europe. It gives them a view of what operations are like when the US takes a back seat. Even though we are very much involved in the op in many ways, when we don’t show up with our toys in force they’re getting an idea of the kind of money they actually need to spend as opposed to what they do spend if they want to have real expeditionary capacity.

  • The French Tigers do not carry Hellfire, not yet anyway. They are limited to rockets and cannon at the moment I think. The gazelles deploying with them do however carry HOT ATGW and even Mistral AA missiles

  • Ken

    Mission creep doesn’t get anymore textbook than this.

    • Jacob

      Gadhafi was butchering his people. If dealing with him involves mission creep, then so be it.

  • Cody

    The reason why you don’t just deploy AH-64’s off a carrier is because they need to be protected from the corrosive elements of the open sea, otherwise they would not make it 50 feet off the deck without a catastrophic breakdown in one of the many different flight systems needed to keep the bird airborne. Do not underestimate the ability of the sea to turn a prestine hunk of metal into rust in no time flat, whether it be a 15 million dollar highly complicated piece of metal or a iron rock. But that would be one of the many reasons you would not deploy an Apache off an aircraft carrier in the USN or marines situation, they already have a plethora of other platforms that they can do the exact same job with as others have kindly pointed out e.g AH-1Z Cobra (except for range restrictions when comparing a Apache to a Cobra without extenal fuel pods).

  • Stephen Russell

    Why wont the US do this from our amphib fleet, extend range of Apaches for MC use for use worldwide???
    IE USS Boxer LHD class etc.

  • Beno

    British Apachies have folding rotor blades unlike US variants.