UK deploys Apache attack helicopters to Estonia to deter 'very credible' Russian threat
15 April 2019, 12:16 | Updated: 15 April 2019, 22:53
The UK has sent five Apache attack helicopters to Estonia as a deterrent to "a very credible threat" from Russia.
Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson watched the aircraft take off from Wattisham Airfield in Suffolk.
Upon arrival in Estonia they will be supported by Wildcat battlefield reconnaissance helicopters and form part of the NATO enhanced forward presence, which was established to ward off potential Kremlin aggression.
The Apaches will be stationed in the country, which borders Russia to the east and Latvia to the south, for three months and Mr Williamson said their deployment was "really vital".
He said: "It's a very credible threat that we see from Russia and part of the reason that we're deploying five Apache attack helicopters is making sure that we're constantly adapting to a changing situation.
"But this is about deterrents. This is about NATO nations standing together in unity as one and you see Great Britain playing the largest role in enhanced forward presence with the largest number of service personnel deployed.
"The enhancement of that deployment with the Apache attack helicopters is really vital and very, very important and it's been very warmly welcomed by so many nations."
NATO created the enhanced forward presence after a summit in Warsaw in July 2016, amid concerns about Russian activity following its annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014.
It has resulted in the deployment of defensive but combat-capable forces in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland, with multinational battle groups led by Britain, Canada, Germany and the US.
While in Estonia, the Apaches will take part in training exercises across the Baltic states - including Exercise Iron Wolf, involving 14 nations in Lithuania.
Major David Lambert, commanding officer of 663 Squadron, 3 Regiment Army Air Corps, said: "Whenever you go somewhere new, there's always things that you learn about how to operate.
"Your fieldcraft needs to change and in the UK we train very much in rolling countryside, it favours us in what we do.
"Actually putting ourselves in a really flat area in close proximity to the Russian border brings some new, complex challenges that we need to look at.
"I'm really excited by the whole prospect."
In addition to the helicopters, the UK is sending 110 extra military personnel to the Baltics as part of Operation CABRIT, taking the total number of British forces there to around 1,000.