Prince Harry to return to front line
PRINCE Harry will return to Afghanistan after qualifying yesterday as a front line Apache attack helicopter pilot.
The 27 year-old, who spent 10 weeks as an infantry soldier in Helmand in 2008, will join a unit which has the highest “kill rate” of any serving in Afghanistan.
Royal sources said he was looking forward to “doing his duty” after completing a gruelling 18-month training programme which culminated in him finishing top of his class and being declared “limited combat ready” yesterday.
Once the Prince has completed pre-deployment training with his squadron he will be classed as fully “combat ready”.
With his brother, the Duke of Cambridge, currently serving as an RAF Search and Rescue pilot, the Prince’s forthcoming deployment means two members of the Royal family will be on operational service for the first time since the modern Armed Forces were formed.
In a marked departure from the media blackout agreed during his previous tour of Helmand, the Ministry of Defence made it clear in an announcement last night that Prince Harry will be expected to fly in combat.
No date has been announced for his four-month tour of duty, which will be subject to review by senior generals and even the Prime Minister until the last minute. But the MoD decided no blackout was necessary this time because the Prince will be far less vulnerable as a pilot than he was when he went on foot patrols four years ago.
In his role as co-pilot gunner in a two-man crew, the Prince will operate the aircraft’s weapon systems, which include Hellfire missiles and a 30mm chain gun. Flying out of Camp Bastion, he will also be expected to provide air cover on missions by special forces.
Apache pilots have the highest “kill rate” of any unit serving in Afghanistan, currently averaging around two Taliban killed every week.
“Killing insurgents is what the machine Prince Harry flies is there for; you cannot put it any other way,” said one defence source.
The Prince, who has proved a natural pilot since switching to the Army Air Corps, was told last night that he had been declared the best co-pilot gunner of his class of more than 20.
Captain Wales, as he is known in the Army, was presented with a trophy — a polished 30mm round from an Apache cannon mounted on a stand — during a celebratory dinner with his fellow pilots at their base at Wattisham airfield in Suffolk.
The Prince will join 662 Sqn, 3 Regiment Army Air Corps, having passed the final part of his training, a survival course during which he was hooded and interrogated in a simulated Taliban kidnapping, picking up a cut on his nose which was visible when he was photographed last week.
It marked the end of his “conversion to role” course, having previously completed a “conversion to type course” in which he was taught how to fly the Apache.
Fewer than one in 10 soldiers who applies for helicopter pilot training with the Army Air Corps qualifies to fly the elite Apache.
A royal source said: “Prince Harry never thought he would make it onto the Apache at all, as only the best