London – The U.K. Army Air Corps (AAC) is exploring options to reduce the number of squadrons currently flying the AgustaWestland-built AH-64 Apache attack helicopter.

The AAC currently has six front-line Apache units, all based at Wattisham Flying Station in Suffolk, and a training squadron, located at Middle Wallop in Hampshire. But the armed forces restructuring announced as part of the 2010 Strategic Defense and Security Review (SDSR), as well as plans to integrate reservists into the service as part of the Army 2020 project, has persuaded AAC commanders to look at major changes in the attack helicopter force.

Speaking at the Royal Aeronautical Society in London on Nov. 20, Col. Andrew Cash, Aviation Commander of the British Army’s 16 Air Assault Brigade and Attack Helicopter Force, said that with the withdrawal of forces in Afghanistan by the end of 2014, he could see the Apache force providing protection for the withdrawal activity. Upon departing Afghanistan, the force would begin training to re-establish the Apache’s force’s “contingent capability,” he said. Such a capability was demonstrated in 2011 when several Apaches were deployed on the Royal Navy amphibious assault ship HMS Ocean and struck targets in Libya as part of Operation Unified Protector.

“The Apache has gone from being a Cold War tank buster to be the archetypal counterinsurgency tool,” said Cash. “Our challenge is to build on this.”

Proposals revealed by Cash would see two regiments each made up of two squadrons of Apaches, each with their own headquarters and engineering and workshop elements combined. A fifth squadron would act as a combined Operational Conversion Unit (OCU) and training unit.

It is not clear if the Army 2020 plan envisions a cut in numbers for the future Apache fleet. The Army Air Corps currently has a fleet of 66 out of 67 Apaches purchased. One aircraft was heavily damaged in Afghanistan and has so far not been repaired.

The Ministry of Defense is now assessing options to upgrade the aircraft as part of the Attack Helicopter Capability Sustainment Program (AH-CSP). A decision is due in early 2013. The project is funded following the Planning Round 12 (PR12) announcements made by the defense ministry in May.