The main tank-busting missile in Britain’s arsenal has been launched for the first time in the UK as HMS Illustrious and Army Air Corps Apaches conducting live firing off Scotland.
The gunships launched from the deck of the Portsmouth-based carrier as the biggest military exercise of the year in the UK neared its climax.
Picture: LA(Phot) Martin Carney, HMS Bulwark
I AM the god of Hellfire and I bring you…
For the first time the tank-busting missile has been fired in the UK as HMS Illustrious and the Army Air Corps let rip off the Scottish coast during the biggest military exercise of the year.
Two Apache helicopters from 656 Squadron Army Air Corps fired one Hellfire missile each at a training target that was positioned by HMS Illustrious in the sea off northern Scotland during the first of this year’s two Joint Warrior war games.
Although the anti-armour missile has been used in combat by British forces in Afghanistan and Libya, this is the first time that the Apache pilots have fired live missiles in the UK.
As well as training the Apache pilots themselves, the firings also allowed the crew of HMS Illustrious to practice safely delivering the missiles from the hip’s weapon magazines to the helicopters on the flight deck – just as their counterparts on HMS Ocean did off Libya when the fearsome gunships struck at Colonel Gaddafi’s war machine with pinpoint accuracy.
Lusty's and 656 Sqn armourers carefully load one of the Hellfire missiles on to one of the Apache's pylons. Picture: PO(Phot) Ray Jones, HMS Illustrious
“The Hellfire missile firings conducted from HMS Illustrious once again proved – as HMS Ocean did so effectively last year off Libya – that the potent combination of Apache helicopter and Hellfire missile can be successfully delivered by a UK warship at sea,” said Lusty’s Commanding Officer Capt Martin Connell.
Major Piers Lewis, Officer Commanding 656 Squadron AAC, added: “The Army Air Corp’s Apache crews are comfortable operating in all environments and this has once again demonstrated our ability to fire Hellfire from sea having launched from HMS Illustrious.
“The regiment and squadron forged excellent links with HMS Ocean last year – and are now forging similarly strong links with Illustrious.”
The always-impressive sight of Apaches lifting off from Illustrious' flight deck. Picture: PO(Phot) Ray Jones, HMS Illustrious
The Apaches and Illustrious are two pieces in the enormous ‘jigsaw’ that is the latest Joint Warrior exercise which ranges from the top of Scotland to its south-western tip and involves more than 8,000 participants from half a dozen nations.
Of the 30-plus warships and auxiliaries, 15 are British, with the Royal Navy and Royal Marines – the latter spearheaded by 3 Commando Brigade and 45 Commando – comprising around just short of half the total forces involved.
Joint Warrior is due to reach its climax in the next couple of days around West Freugh, just south of Stranraer, but when it concludes Illustrious will remain in the area to support Exercise Scottish Lion, which is also played out in south-west Scotland and which involves 45 Commando.