FEARSOME Apache attack choppers have deployed to the freezing Arctic Circle for the first time – in a move guaranteed to make Putin’s blood run cold.
The “battle winning” Army helicopters have been operating in Norway, which borders Russia, for the last five weeks. And days ago conducted live fire drills for the first time – in temperatures plunging to -29 degrees.
Brigadier Mike Keating, operations officer for Joint Helicopter Command, hailed the “extraordinary” chopper, saying: “We’ve got a world-class capability in the hands of the British Army.
“That’s exactly why we brought it here, to learn those lessons and prove to ourselves and any adversaries out there that no matter where trouble might face us, we are prepared to go and face it.
“Whether it’s in the deserts of Afghanistan or in the freezer of the Arctic Circle.
The Apache Helicopter sends a psychological message to any potential enemy, to any foe that’s out there – just look at it – it bristles with weapon systems that are in many ways unique.”
Last week The Sun travelled to Bardufoss, 3,000 miles from the UK and 200 miles inside the Arctic Circle, to witness Apaches from 656 Sqn, Army Air Corps, in action.
British troops have been coming here for cold weather warfare training for 50 years, but now Top Brass have sent Apaches to the region in a bid to bolster NATOs Northern flank amid Russian aggression.
It brings a huge amount of firepower and it emboldens our ground forces as well.
Brigadier Mike Keating
The move comes as the Arctic is set to become a key new battleground as global warming opens new shipping routes and access to oil reserves beneath the ice.
As a result both NATO allies and Russia have ramped up training and bought extra kit for the expected fight for control of the region.
Now Britain has added Apache into the mix, armed with its 30mm canon, Hellfire missiles and rockets. They built up a ferocious reputation in the furnace of Helmand and Top Brass confirmed they are proving equally devastating in the Earth’s freezer.
Next week Prince Harry – a former Apache pilot and current Captain General of the Royal Marines –will visit the region to witness the training, code named Exercise Clockwork.
Brig Keating, called the addition of Apaches a “step change” adding: “Whether you are Royal Marine, a parachute Regiment soldier, whether you are an infantry soldier in the British Army, it is a game changer.
“It brings a huge amount of firepower and it emboldens our ground forces as well. And if that is sending a message to a whole range of adversaries, then that is the right thing to be doing.”
Army Air Corps pilot Captain Ash – whose identity we are not printing for security reasons – said: “It was battle wining in Afghanistan, and we’ve come out to Norway and it is performing better than expected, so I fully expect to be a battle-winning aircraft in this environment as well.
“The weather changes very quickly here, we have to be prepared to survive in the environment as well if we have to go down on the ground.
“I think it’s been a huge learning curve for everyone. It’s been amazing, it’s been great fun, we’re inside the Arctic Circle, flying the world’s best attack helicopter, what more could you want.”
Operating in these harsh conditions is an almost impossible challenge. Troops must be forward based to remote locations ready to rearm and refuel the Apaches, living in tents buried in snow in the freezing conditions.
They are brilliant people, they are thriving out here, they love the challenge, this is really hard soldiering out here.
Brigadier Mike Keating
The temperature beneath the rotor “disc” downwash is even colder but soldiers cannot wear their heavy mittens as they need to use their finders to load rounds and operate complex machinery. It means working time is massively reduced.
Meanwhile the pilots have to contend with turbulence rushing up and down the mountains, freak snow storms, and terrain blanketed in white making it tough to see changes on the ground.
They have all been trained in survival methods if they have to go down in the snow miles from rescue.
Brig Keating, said: “We can’t fly anywhere in the world without our boys and girls on the ground helping us. They are as crucial a part of this endeavour as the pilots who sit in the front of this aircraft.
“And I take my hats off to them, what we are asking them to do, the conditions we are asking them to operate under, are quite incredible. To a person, they are brilliant people, they are thriving out here, they love the challenge, this is really hard soldiering out here.
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“If you can soldier here, you can soldier anywhere. We need to master this environment, and we know that if the requirement to come fight here ever comes up we can do it.
“To get that aircraft lifting off, bristling with weaponry to go and do what it needs to do at the far end in an amazing achievement. It’s the boys and girls who pull it together and are prepared to face those conditions out there and deliver.”
Top Brass said this training will be repeated over the coming months and years so troops on the ground can rely on attack choppers in any potential future war in the snow.
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