I've had a Twitter exchange with Craig Hoyle, from Flightglobal.com: he has recently interviewed the British Army's Apache force commander on what the future holds for the two Attack Helicopter regiments in the AAC.
Future that, it is worth reminding it, in the Army 2020 presentation is described in this way:
Less amusing was the rumor of one frontline squadron being cut from the force. I reported about the rumor on Twitter and probably mentioned it in some of my earlier posts about Army 2020, but i was unable to obtain solid evidence, and it just felt so demented and implausible that i kept quiet about the matter.
Next week, Craig Hoyle will reveal the details he's had in the interview with the commanders, explaining the current foreseen way ahead for the Apache forces, included the thinking going on about the Apache Capability Sustainment Programme to be launched in the coming years.
But when he announced his article and specified "squadron numbers" would be a part of the talk, i couldn't help but ask:
Gabriele The answer was a true blow to my morale and opinion about the Army, the government and the Army 2020 "plan":
@FlightAcesHigh Impatiently waiting to read your piece on the british Apaches. Is it true that one Squadron will be disbanded?
Craig Hoyle My italian blood makes me be a little bit too direct at times, so my immediate reply was:
@Gabriel64869839 Sorry - mission creep due to World Air Forces directory work! AH story now for mag next week, but yes, will be 4 op sqns.
@FlightAcesHigh That's a cut of 2 squadrons, no less! Are they entirely crazy???
@Gabriel64869839 To clarify - 4 operational and the 5th as an OCU. Will also update re upgrade intentions - will be worth the wait ;) @FlightAcesHigh I understand, but there are now 6 operational squadrons plus OCU, so it's a cut of two operational squadrons!
I have no information at the moment on the effective state of readiness of the sixth frontline squadron, and it well might be that it isn't really operational yet, with the Apache force's build-up affected as it was by Afghanistan operations.
EDIT: i went checking on EAGLE, the publication of the Army Air Corps, and from what i read there, all squadrons are definitely active, and all six have seen their share of action in Afghanistan.
The current force structure for the Apache force is:
673 Squadron, 7 (Training) Regiment - this squadron converts pilots to the Apache and prepares them for active service in the frontline squadrons. It is the OCU for the Apache fleet.
There are then the 2 Attack Helicopter regiments, 3rd and 4th, which are both structured on 3 frontline squadrons. These should be:
656 Sqn - possibly the most famous Apache squadron, for a number of reasons: first squadron of Apaches to become operational, 2004, first Apache squadron going at sea on Royal Navy ships, in 2005, and first Apache squadron deploying to Afghanistan, in 2006. In Afghanistan it earned two MCs and two DFCs. It fought in Libya last year.
664 Sqn - said to have a "special relationship", like 656 with the Navy, but with the Special Forces instead. Obviously, whatever relates to SF roles is kept very quiet. It trained hard to replace 656 on HMS Ocean for operations in Libya last year, but the war was over before they could get in action.
662 Sqn - Prince Harry is deployed in Afghanistan with this Squadron.
The two attack regiments command the Afghan operations for one year each, alternating in the role. During the year of responsibility of a Regiment, its 3 squadrons deploy in theatre for tours of 4 months. In the following 12-month period, the other regiment takes over with its own squadrons.
In the meanwhile, the regiment in the UK will normally be expected to provide helicopters to the Airborne Task Force from 16 Air Assault Brigade and it will also provide a package of Apache and crews for the Response Force Task Group made up by the Royal Marines and Royal Navy.
The force, in other words, is always very busy and high in demand.
In themselves, the present Attack Regiments are the result of at least a couple of earlier plan changes: the first due to an order for 67 Apaches against over 90 envisaged earlier (would have given a force of 9 frontline squadrons, 8 for the Army and 1 for the Royal Marines, as it was envisaged that Apache would replace the TOW-armed Lynx AH7 in 847 Naval Air Squadron, Commando Helicopter Force).
The second change was one of basing and distribution: it was earlier planned that the AAC would organize 3 Attack Regiments, each comprising 2x Apache Squadrons and 1x Lynx RECCE/Light Utility squadron.
While the force was being built up, however, it was deemed more efficient to put all Lynx squadrons in the same regiment and base (9th Regiment, which will now vanish as part of Army 2020 cuts, merging with 1st Regiment. The base is Dishfort, which will very possibly close since 1st Regiment will re-locate to Yeovilton), and do the same with the Apaches, forming two Attack Regiments at Wattisham.
Now, from the info that Craig Hoyle has obtained, we look ahead to a four squadron force, plus OCU. A cut of 2 frontline squadrons from now.
A cut hidded by a shameful, ridiculous, false "largely unchanged" claim.
Keep an eye on Flightglobal next week (indeed, it is a good source of info everyday!) for getting the full interview with the whole story. I sure look forwards to it myself, to learn about the planned upgrade at least.
And to see what impact the loss of two squadrons will have on the number of available pilots and helicopters. One would hope that, at least, the squadrons will be enlarged from current 8 airframes.
But, seen how Army 2020 has gone so far, i will probably only get angrier and even more disappointed when i read in. It truly is depressing to see that, no matter how useful and necessary a tool proves, the wild, blind axeman hits it and chops pieces off it.
And this "largely unchanged" adds insult to injury. Seriously, whoever wrote that deserves to be punched hard in the face.
It should leave it "largely unchanged" too, after all.