Mass formation of UK helicopters deploy for Steadfast Defender

A force of 16 helicopters from the 4 Regiment Army Air Corps Battle Group (4 AAC BG) departed Wattisham Flying Station, Suffolk, for mainland Europe to take part in Exercise Steadfast Defender 24.

The flight – which comprised nine AH-64E(V6) Apache AH2s and four Wildcat AH1s from the AAC, as well as three Chinook HC5/6As from the RAF – were meant to depart the UK on April 23, but this was delayed by 24 hours due to poor weather conditions.

The helicopters later arrived at Gilze-Rijen Air Base in the Netherlands before continuing on to Finland, where the force – under the command of the 1st Aviation Brigade Combat Team – will take part in Exercise Arrow (a live-fire event) alongside the Finnish Army in Finland. This will mark the first NATO deployment for the AAC’s new Apache AH2 fleet. Upon completing their manoeuvres in Finland, all three helicopter types will travel on to Estonia under the command of 16 Air Assault Brigade Combat Team, the British Army’s global response force.

An RAF Chinook HC5 leads three AAC-operated Apache AH2s down the runway at Gilze-Rijen Air Base in the Netherlands. The 16 UK-operated rotorcraft used the Dutch base as a fuel stop while en route to Finland
An RAF Chinook HC5 leads three AAC-operated Apache AH2s down the runway at Gilze-Rijen Air Base in the Netherlands. The 16 UK-operated rotorcraft used the Dutch base as a fuel stop while en route to Finland Dino van Doorn

Commenting on the deployment, Lt Col Dave Lambert – commander of 4 AAC BG – 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 [AH2], the capabilities we deliver are battle-winning and contribute fully to the combined arms battle.”

All of these manoeuvres fall under the umbrella of the wider Exercise Steadfast Defender 24, which aims to test and refine NATO’s plans to reinforce European defences against a near-peer adversary. Some 20,000 British personnel will be among the 90,000 troops from each of the 32 NATO member states involved in the event.