Heli-flop-ter: Britain mothballs costly Apache helicopters after brief Afghan, Libyan service

Apache Longbow helicopter. (Reuters / Tim Chong)

Apache Longbow helicopter. (Reuters / Tim Chong)


Islamic State, Libyan conflict


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A quarter of the UK’s hugely expensive Apache attack helicopter fleet was mothballed when Afghan combat operations come to a close, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) has admitted.

Sixteen of Britain’s
remaining 66 Augusta Westland AH-64 Apache Longbow aircraft will
be put into storage and used for spare parts now that the UK has
abandoned combat operations in war-torn central Asia.

An MoD spokesman confirmed to IHS Jane’s: “The 2010 Strategic
Defence and Security Review and 2012 Planning Round identified
the need to adjust the Apache aircraft numbers in line with the
drawdown of operations in Afghanistan. With the end of combat
operations, the fleet was adjusted to 50 in January 2015.”

The Apache was first used in operations in Afghanistan in 2006.

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futile – poll

It also saw combat in
Libya in 2011, where it was flown from the decks of Royal Navy
ships during the NATO-led operation which culminated in the
overthrow of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi.

The decision comes as generals and politicians question the
government’s defense cuts.

From the beginning of its operational service, Apache proved as
critical to UK operations as it was lavishly expensive.

In Afghanistan the helicopter became a mainstay of the fraught
campaign, repeatedly having to come to the aid of ground troops
pinned down in forward operating bases.

The intensity of warfare created extra costs, with parts having
to be replaced at a much higher rate than expected due to wear
and tear.

Acquiring the helicopter is estimated to have cost the British
taxpayer over £4 billion pounds and the process of obtaining it
and adapting it for British use was marred by technical problems.

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The Apache’s entry into service was delayed by concerns that it
could not fly in icy weather and that faults in its radio
communication systems would prevent it talking to other units and

It also had to be adjusted to prevent it from, in effect,
shooting itself down. In an unmodified state, the Hellfire
missiles it carried would have damaged the tail rotor when fired,
bringing the aircraft crashing to earth.

There was also a delay with regards to training pilots. Ready
qualified pilots required a further two years of training in
order to operate it.

The aircraft’s best known pilot is Captain Harry Wales – better
known as Prince Harry, fourth in line to the British throne – who
served as an Apache crewman on his second tour of Afghanistan.

He caused controversy by comparing his job as a co-pilot/gunner
to playing a computer game.

Sixty-seven were originally procured, but one was lost in an
accident in Helmand province in 2008.

While no UK Apaches were ever acknowledged to have been brought
down by enemy action, they were regularly hit with small arms
fire in both Afghanistan and Libya.

In Helmand Province in 2014, one was forced to make a
precautionary landing after it was hit by a bird.

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