From the heat of the desert to Arctic cold, and from the high seas to high mountains, 1st Aviation Brigade Combat Team (1 Avn BCT) trains to provide helicopters for the British Army’s Global Response Force.
The BCT’s lead element, known as Aviation Task Force 1 (ATF-1), brings together the Army’s Apache attack helicopters and Wildcat battlefield reconnaissance helicopters with the Royal Air Force’s Chinook and Puma support helicopters. Working in support of 16 Air Assault Brigade Combat Team and alongside ground troops trained and equipped to deploy and fight from the air makes a potent and credible force ready to respond to international crises at short notice.
In the last year, training has taken ATF-1 helicopters across the world to work alongside our international partners. Exercise Baccarat took Apaches to the Alps to fly alongside French Army Tigre attacks helicopters; while Exercise Spring Storm saw them deploy to NATO’s eastern flank to train with British troops deployed in Estonia.
“It is a testament to the quality and sheer hard work of our soldiers – from aircrew to engineers – that we have the flexibility and capability to deliver our role as an extremely high readiness unit, as and when Defence requires.” Lieutenant Colonel Andrew Mitchell
From white-outs in the snows of northern Norway to brown-outs in the dusty deserts of Oman, Apaches and Wildcats have tackled both freezing and high temperatures. The two helicopters fly together as Attack Reconnaissance Teams, with the Wildcat's powerful sensors finding and marking targets for the Apache’s potent weaponry. Saltwater, the confined working spaces on board Royal Navy ships and a runway oscillating constantly when at sea provided additional challenges whilst rehearsing maritime strike missions as the first attack helicopters embarked on the aircraft carrier HMS Prince of Wales.
All the while, a steady drumbeat of training in the UK sees ATF-1 helicopters supporting 16 Air Assault Brigade Combat Team, with Chinooks and Pumas flying paratroopers and Gurkhas into position under the protection of Wildcats and Apaches. Maintaining ATF-1 is the responsibility of 4 Regiment Army Air Corps, based at Wattisham Flying Station in Suffolk.
Lieutenant Colonel Andrew Mitchell, 4 Regt AAC’s Commanding Officer, said: “Helicopters are a significant force multiplier on the battlefield, providing vital lift, find and strike capabilities that can demonstrably increase the manoeuvre of air assault forces when fighting against a larger enemy.
“We train to be ready for operations in any environment, all of which present unique challenges to our people and equipment but equally, it is the mindset of our individuals to ensure they can meet the ask for any mission we could be called to do. Having the right mix of assets for the missions is vital – a disaster relief scenario calls for support helicopters to rapidly move supplies and potentially to evacuate people, while the lethality of the Apache comes into its own in warfighting.
“It is a testament to the quality and sheer hard work of our soldiers – from aircrew to engineers – that we have the flexibility and capability to deliver our role as an extremely high readiness unit, as and when Defence requires.”
1 Avn BCT is part of Joint Helicopter Command, which brings together helicopter forces from the Royal Navy, British Army and Royal Air Force.