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Helicopters take off for Steadfast Defender

The British Army’s new Apache AH-64E attack helicopter is spearheading the deployment of helicopters on NATO’s largest military exercise since the Cold War.

4 Regiment Army Air Corps Battlegroup (4 AAC BG), a potent and capable mix of Army Air Corps Apaches and Wildcat reconnaissance helicopters and Royal Air Force Chinook support helicopters, took off for Finland and Estonia to train alongside our allies on Exercise Steadfast Defender 24.

4 AAC BG, commanded by 1st Aviation Brigade Combat Team and part of the newly structured Joint Aviation Command, is kept at very high readiness to respond to international crises. It provides the full range of helicopters’ lift, find and attack capabilities, with the nature of the mission dictating the number and type of aircraft deployed.

The fleet of more than a dozen Apache, Wildcat and Chinook helicopters deploying on Exercise Steadfast Defender assembled at Wattisham Flying Station in Suffolk to take off together this morning. Some 130 vehicles – from fuel tankers to Land Rovers - are travelling by road and rail to the Baltics, with the majority of the 500 aircrew, engineers and groundcrew that operate the helicopters flying out.

4 AAC BG Commander Lieutenant Colonel Dave Lambert said:

“This is one of the largest overseas helicopter deployments we have done outside of Iraq and Afghanistan and almost certainly will be the largest thing that most of our people will have done. It provides a powerful contribution to support NATO training on Exercise Steadfast Defender. Led by the state-of-the-art Apache AH-64E, the capabilities we deliver are battle-winning and contribute fully to the combined arms battle.

Led by the state-of-the-art Apache AH-64E, the capabilities we deliver are battle-winning and contribute fully to the combined arms battle." Lt Col Dave Lambert
4 Regiment Army Air Corps

“The significance of what we are doing is matched by the demanding nature of the deployment. We’re deploying helicopters and everything we need to operate them across Europe, to build relationships with our allies, understand their capabilities and procedures, to then plan and carry out missions together.”

On the first NATO deployment of the new AH-64E variant, Apaches will take part in Exercise Arrow in Finland, flying strike missions in support of large-scale Finnish Army training. All three helicopter types will then fly and fight together in Estonia under the command of 16 Air Assault Brigade Combat Team, the British Army’s global response force.

British airborne forces are training with their Estonian, Polish and US counterparts on Exercise Swift Response to practise seizing a foothold against armed opposition. Air assault operations will see troops and equipment lifted by Chinooks, with the Wildcats' surveillance equipment working with the Apaches' advanced suite of sights and sensors to find and strike targets on the battlefield.

All the activity comes under the umbrella of Exercise Steadfast Defender 24, which is testing and refining NATO’s plans for reinforcing European defences against a near-peer adversary. Some 20,000 British personnel are involved, among 90,000 troops from all 32 members of the alliance.

The British Army has purchased 50 Boeing-built Apache AH-64Es, with 3 Regiment Army Air Corps the first of the two frontline Apache regiments to begin operating the new aircraft in 2022. The AH-64E offers improved flying performance and new sensors and communications systems that vastly improve its battlefield performance over the Apache Mk1 it replaces.

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