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Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Apache Pilot With a Difference; He’s Been a JTAC as Well

By Andrew Drwiega, Military Editor

A British Army Air Corps Captain has just deployed to Camp Bastion in Helmand Province, Afghanistan for his second tour of duty. Hardly headline news until the name Captain Wales is mentioned, aka Prince Harry and third in line to the throne of the British Royal Family.
The news incited an immediate response from alleged Taliban sources who claimed that they would now do their best to kill or capture him. Was the recent attack against Camp Bastion that killed two U.S. Marines and damaged aircraft already being planned; was it carried out with the fractional odds of actually killing him; or was it in response to the film that has already claimed the life of the U.S. Ambassador to Libya and three of his colleagues? Probably a combination of all three reasons giving those Taliban commanders enough to incite and motivate a small attacking force who must have known it to be a virtual suicide mission—estimates say around 20 were involved with up to 17 being killed. The base is isolated in a barren desert and away from the cover provided by the Green Zone. What will concern the base security is that the attack could be mounted without detection, although its outcome was hardly in doubt.


Captain Wales prepares his Apache for a mission during Exercise Crimson Eagle. Photo by Sgt. Russ Nolan RLC 2011


When Prince Harry, a WAH-64D Apache pilot, arrived at Camp Bastion on Friday, Sept. 7 it was openly reported by the media. A news blackout had surrounded his previous deployment in early 2008 until his cover was blown, first in an Australian magazine and then followed up by a U.S. website. He was quickly withdrawn once the story was out.
Flying in a British Apache helicopter as a co-pilot gunner (CPG), the position he was qualified for following his completion of Exercise Crimson Eagle in Arizona in February this year, means he will be directly involved in the ISTAR and close-air support that the Apaches carry out on a daily basis. Certainly he is more vulnerable when flying, but the Taliban have long wanted to shoot down Apaches and other International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) helicopters, a task that for the most part they have found difficult to do. The lack of surface-to-air missiles that were eventually supplied to the Mujahedeen during the Russian invasion of Afghanistan has meant that they have had to rely on small arms and rocket propelled grenades, albeit with scattered success.
Captain Wales will also be able to put to good use the valuable yet brief experience he gained during his first tour as a Second Lieutenant, forward air controller (or Joint Tactical Air Controller, otherwise known as a JTAC).
JTACs accompany ground troops and are taught the skills necessary to control close air support, be it fighters or attack helicopters, when they are required to assist troops in contact. They are taught to retain a 3D image of the battlefield and think in terms of how pilots will view the area of operations. Anyone who has served or viewed Afghanistan from the air will know just how difficult the job is to identify individual brown buildings and compounds in a veritable sea of brown buildings and compounds.
His squadron’s area of operations in Regional Command South West (RC-Southwest) centers around Camp Bastion, home initially to British forces at the beginning of the Afghan campaign but hugely expanded with the arrival of over 11,000 U.S. Marines in 2009.
Having partied in Las Vegas earlier this year, confirmed by some less than candid photographs zapping around the internet, which army officer of any nationality would spurn such an opportunity before heading out onto another tour of duty in Afghanistan. While many would argue that he should have known better considering his position in the Royal family, he will have gain a huge amount of kudos with those he will be service with. Prince Harry has, above all, proved he is a soldier’s soldier and one who readily identifies with the troops.
His support of servicemen who have been severely wounded in action and are struggling to overcome life changing physical and mental challenges is well documented.
Related: Military News
 

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