Apaches South, or Maybe Not

Or East or West, depending on where they are coming from!

Of course I am referring to the rumoured deployment of British Army Apache AH1 helicopters to Libya.

As the Royal Navy’s Response Force Task Group (RFTG) has been taking part in the very visible and very noisy Exercise Cougar 11 in the Eastern Mediterranean it has been rumoured for a long time that it would see some operational deployment in support of Operation Ellamy. Elements of the RFTG sailed 3 weeks early to provide those much talked about ‘choices’

Also during this deployment was the news that the Army Air Corps Apache helicopter had continued its ongoing integration within the Royal Navy and Royal Marines amphibious capability, successfully firing Hellfire missiles, working in weapons storage and movement aboard and of course further training for air and ground crew in the littoral environment.

All good stuff, proving and improving a useful capability, we should all be pleased.

If true, and at this stage the MoD have neither confirmed nor denied, it will mark yet another escalation in the tortuous escalation in force that has characterised the NATO involvement.

On Monday, French defence minister Gerard Longuet let the cat out of the bag by saying;

The British, who have assets similar to ours, will also commit. The sooner the better is what the British think.

Speaking to Parliament today, Nick Harvey said;

We have not taken this decision, and that we have not suggested to the French that we have taken this decision.

The objective would remain exactly the same, the targets would remain the same, but we would have at our disposal a weapon with a greater degree of precision, better able to hit targets, and indeed moving targets, and with a lower risk of collateral damage.

But I repeat: No such decision has as yet been taken.

It’s very unusual strategy to tell the enemy exactly what you’re up to

The French are deploying Tiger and Gazelle helicopters, both have combat experience in Afghanistan but the French Tiger’s are currently awaiting their Hellfire integration, currently, they are only armed with an automatic cannon and unguided rockets. Reports said 12 Tigers were aboard the BPC Tonnerre but this seems unlikely given the small numbers in service so the HOT ATGW and Mistral AA missile armed Gazelles may form the bulk of the force (any French commenters in the know?)

Press reports have characterised this as a significant escalation, it’s an escalation alright but not sure about the significance; aboard HMS Ocean are 3 Apache’s although more could be deployed. What it does represent is a risk in risk, Libyan forces still retain a sizeable man portable anti aircraft missile arsenal and by operating at lower speeds and altitudes than fast jets, helicopters remain more vulnerable to ground fires.

Is this like a slow motion replay of the Balkans, a vague hope changey notion that air attacks would force some sort of capitulation followed by a drawn out realisation that ground forces are the most sensible option?

As in the Balkans, Gadaffi shows no signs whatsoever of changing anything and has adapted the tactics to counter the denial of airspace and interdiction of command and control. The lack of any palatable options means he is in to the end.

Despite the background noise of statistics on number of bombs dropped, sorties generated, tanks destroyed, bunkers collapsed and even ships sunk, the reality on the ground is that the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Without the use of ground manoeuvre forces this will simply drag on and on, each escalation elongating the conflict and unlikely to bring about significant change.

The dreams of air power theorists have yet again been shown as somewhat deficient in the reality stakes.

Perhaps I am being harsh, for a very limited set of strategic objectives air power has served its purpose and by keeping ground forces out of Libya (apart from those ‘advisors’) we remain within the bounds of UN1973. As we run out of targets that can be safely engaged from the air alone though, there is a certain depressing inevitability about a rising civilian casualty list.

The great white hope of Libyan rebel forces being that ground element; has, despite their incredible bravery and resourcefulness, also shown to be somewhat optimistic.

The underlying strategy seems as confused as ever, mired in conflicting politics that only complicate matters and the longer things go on, those political issues will play an even greater role in dragging things out.

This deployment is an excellent demonstration of this muddle, are they part of the NATO force, not according to NATO. The LA Times reported a NATO official, when asked, said;

At this stage, we have heard that they have got a ship with helicopters in the Mediterranean,they’re not part of us.

The strategy so far has been to stave off a rebel defeat, apply constant but rising pressure, wear down the government forces and provide some breathing space for the rebels to organise and arm themselves but in parts this is hopelessly optimistic, how long has it taken us to get the ANA to its current state, are we really going to be slowly applying pressure for years to come?

Instead of simply ripping the plaster off, the West’s strategy is to peel it off, inch by inch, escalation by escalation, hoping the pain will go away.

By demonstrating this timidity, deferring to the UN, having a palpable aversion to deploying ground forces and only doing the bare minimum at every escalation we are simply dragging things out and storing up problems for the future.

A swift and decisive ground intervention with limited aims and objectives would bring the matter to a conclusion much quicker than our incremental, over cautious and hopelessly optimistic approach. What that ‘matter’ is depends on your point of view, it could be the removal of Mr Gadaffi or an end to the humanitarian crisis.

Who knows, attack helicopters just might prove to be the tipping point, it’s a nice thought, but I remain sceptical.

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May 24, 2011 6:34 pm

You probably won’t agree with me… but Ocean and Apache make for a “cheap aircraft carrier”, and if the Uk government gives to ‘go ahead’ it’ll be a confirmation that a carrier strike capability close to the area of the targets is sorely needed.

There are no Harriers anymore to base close to shore, so they send in the Apaches instead.

Because the “greater degree of precision, better able to hit targets, and indeed moving targets, and with a lower risk of collateral damage” is a largely arguable argument.

The Apache will be using mainly Hellfire, so no significant difference from Dual Mode Brimstone. It has the gun and the rockets, but their use will be more unique than rare: there’s still lots of 23 mm guns and other AAA all over the place, and the helicopters will want to stay away from the fire as much as possible.

The main, only real difference would be, indeed, that the helicopters would be closer to the targets and to the rebels, and would better be able to provide CAS to the rebels during the fight. In particular if there are western special forces and “advisors” in the rebels ranks with Air Attack Controller kits.
Based on Ocean, the helicopters would be able to stay overhead and protect the rebels for longer. But at higher risk than a fixed wing plane.

It is an interesting development for real, one to follow closely.
And ultimately, in my opinion, it once more proves the enduring need to be able to deploy strike capability by air, from the sea.


May 24, 2011 6:34 pm


Indeed, the french Gazelles do the guiding and fireing of HOT/TOW missiles and works in tandem with the Tigers, no doubt that they will rely on the procedures learnt and used in Afghanistan to good effect (good enough, the gazelle is resticted in such environment due to the hot and high environment – Libya is different, so this partnering should perform much better, availability and performance wise).

I am not sure on this score, one moment one half of our new partnership says one thing whilst the other was rather suprised – ‘hang on a minuet!’
Either the french dropped the ball on our shadey movements or made a shot in the dark about our own perogative, with the recent exercise; it’d be easier to get us brits onside when have all our assets needed for such ops in theatre…

Either way, I think we should follow suit and partner up, either fully or at least let the french use Ocean and give them support…if we back our or dither for too long, we will damage this new partnership with the French and harm our reliability (in their view anyway).

Its a step up though, all the big nasty SAMs and AAA are dust, but pleanty of ‘technicals’ and MANPADS too… something not generally experianced or a threat in Afghan, I can imagine they most certainly wont go alone without other ISTAR assets backing them up.

All Politicians are the Same
All Politicians are the Same
May 24, 2011 11:45 pm

Apologies for typos on bberry. Interesting development attack helos operating from vessels close inshore will give a response we have not had available before.
@TD the NATO Official was correct French Maritime assets operate under National OPCON as part of CTF 473 unless INCHOPPED to NATO.
CTF 473 is far more supportive of and cooperative with NATO than US maritime assetsm
Please do not be so quick to criticicse and ridicule especially when relying on US press reportsm

May 25, 2011 8:55 am

“The dreams of air power theorists have yet again been shown as somewhat deficient in the reality stakes.”

Not sure I can agree here
For reasons you in fact give.

Most Air Power Theorists talk about the need for an extremely intense burst of activity, not a slowly escalating gradual response.

My view remains we should be able to hit 500+ targets on day 1 and land a reinforced mixed Brigade.

If landed said force in Sirte on day one, announced the creation of the free state of Benghazistan and informed Gadafi that any attempt to reconquer the region would see said Brigade coming to take his head, this would more than likely all be sorted.

As it is, we’ve given him no option but to fight to the bitter end and used nothing like the force required to dig him out of his hole.

May 25, 2011 11:16 am

Not directly related but I was listening to the radio, and British attempts to get the US more involved in Libya. It could be a good thing if the US stay arms length and it forces the British Govt (and the rest of Europe) to realise that we have to be able to do missions without relying on US forces. It might force a greater appreciation of the need for a sensible defence budget and intelligent procurement.

A different Gareth
A different Gareth
May 25, 2011 2:19 pm


Doubt it. It’ll just create a stronger call for a fully joined up Euro army that will be a continuation of a muddled foreign policy that fails to inform procurement decisions.

May 25, 2011 3:22 pm

@ A different Gareth

I fear you are right – My natural optimism has now drained!

May 25, 2011 3:43 pm

Nar, Europe will just complain the US is being isolationist again.

May 25, 2011 4:34 pm

I think its good that helicopters, are being deployed. It minimizes the risk of civilian casualties, since you are closer, to the ground and you have a human perspective of things, they can help identify what is a target and what is not. However the AA fire, at the lower altitudes, is a huge risk. Is the UK prepared for more military casualties?

May 25, 2011 5:37 pm

Sorry – off topic but I thought I would share this – artists impression of “stealth Blackhawk” used to get Bin Laden:


May 25, 2011 5:53 pm

Hi DJ,

They will “Nar, Europe will just complain the US is being isolationist again”
-it is so behind the times, Europe -surely- with 350m? people and GDP rivalling the US, must be able to fend for itself, as it lacks natural enemies (or if there are any, they do not have the strength exceeding any of the top 6 EU nations taken in isolation

May 25, 2011 6:33 pm

I can’t believe any commentator on this site is seriously advocating a land incursion. Have we learnt nothing from Iraq and Afghanistan. No matter how limited an incursion we may want to make its never going to work. As with everything else we will have to stay for a Decade or more.

I don’t really see the problem with the present arrangement. We were tasked to protect the civilians and defend the rebels. Job done. And we did not have to take any casualties to do it. Oil is even starting to flow again from the rebel areas. Why do we need to go further. Eventually ghadaffi will run out of money and wither on the vine.

With the massive cuts we have had to endure, constant wars and the fact that you can bet your bottom dollar as per usual it will be us and us alone who has to go in, why we would even consider torturing ourselves again for a country which has little if any value to the UK.

May 25, 2011 6:37 pm

don’t think a euro army would help here. The eu is just as divided as ever. the Germans would not even vote for the present UN resolution let alone an invasion

paul g
May 25, 2011 7:56 pm

warning! rant ahaead!!!
So the ARMY air corp have an apache open day type thing at an ARMY flying station, they shoot a vid talking to col,a capt a warrant officer and a sgt all wearing blue ARMY air corp berets with ARMY air corp capbadges (except colin penny who’s wearing a REME capbadge, an ARMY corp). What’s the headline on the story…
RAF showcase apache!!!!
well done daily telegraph you set of bellends


Brian Black
Brian Black
May 26, 2011 9:25 am

British Gazelles were use for recce and target designation during the NATO bombing campaign against Serbia, way back when.

The French helicopters needn’t carry missiles to make a valuable contribution; without having folks on the ground, these aircraft will add to the ability to find and destroy small dispersed units, or those units taking cover in urban areas, and help to positively identify those forces using civilian vehicles.

Michael (Civ.)
Michael (Civ.)
May 26, 2011 10:34 pm

@Paul G

I’ve come to the conclusion that the Telegraph is just a more expensive version of the Sun. If they are going to do a story on something why can’t they at least get the details right?

About the Apaches going to Libya.

I find it really weird that my Gov/Military are having such a public debate about whether or not to do something.

Is this a case of wanting to increase the pressure on the opposition or just the time honoured tactic of sending up a balloon and waiting to see if it gets shot down?

The BBC have just announced that we are, in fact, going to send them in.


I wonder if they still have the internet in Libya and when they read this, will they all be searching around for those ever useful MANPADS?

Or is that what our SF were blowing up awhile back?

paul g
May 26, 2011 10:57 pm

hmm they targeted a vehicle depot tonight, a bid to stop the AA on the back of a truck fit?

Rupert Fiennes
Rupert Fiennes
May 27, 2011 10:33 am

I’ll bet the will they/won’t they is largely related to the unfortunate fact that Ocean cannot be more than 50 miles offshore if the Apache’s are to have a useful loiter time…which says you really need a CAP overhead for cover. Gioia del Colle is a 1400 KM round trip away, so the RAF need another Typhoon squadron and to beg some more tankers from the US.

Of course, if this was Ark Royal, you’d only need 4 Sea Harrier’s, who wouldn’t even need to stand CAP, they could just be on deck alert. Pity they were withdrawn in 2006…

When Misrata needs urgent reinforcements due to a Sebrenica situation, given that the RM are in Afghan (and even if available, would take a week to arrive from the UK) we could fly forces in…except the airfield is disabled. So we need to parachute in a force to secure the airfield for the RE ADR teams to fix…. except apparently, parachute forces are “obselete”…

Then, when Gadaffi goes for broke, our “light” forces get into trouble, just like they did in Amara, Basra etc, and we need some tanks and IFV’s…

It’s less than a year since the SDSR, and the *same government that wrote it* has already got itself into a situation which it implicitly assumed would never occur again! If you want another example of how moronic talk of “we don’t need this capability, it’s obselete/cold war related/not needed in today’s new world, here you are!

Tony Williams
Tony Williams
May 27, 2011 12:41 pm

@Rupert Fiennes:

“If you want another example of how moronic talk of “we don’t need this capability, it’s obselete/cold war related/not needed in today’s new world, here you are!”

Alternatively, if you need an example of why we should NOT get involved in such military adventures, then here we have it!

Rupert Fiennes
Rupert Fiennes
May 27, 2011 1:26 pm

Tony: how true! However, we’re still doing it…and I somehow suspect this will always be the case!

May 28, 2011 8:59 am

libya is nothing like iraq.
Theres an actual rebellion in progress, which a limited ground incursion can actualy can actualy help.
Or could have helped in the first few weeks anyway.

May 28, 2011 9:56 am

“Or could have helped in the first few weeks anyway.”
– now the talk is about sending “blue helmets”, not as peacemakers or peacekeepers, but monitors
– and it is not going to be like in Lebanon: if Israel didn’t like the report, they put a tank shell through the observation post (without consequences for themselves); I would bet the helicopters will guarantee an instant response, felt by the infringing side (to any cease fire)
– now, the next question: Where might the observers on the ground come from (OAU and Arab League have been getting vocal – ask them to put some skin-in-the-game, perhaps?)