Wattisham: Prince Harry Returning To Base

1 December 2011, 11:20 | Updated: 1 December 2011, 11:43

Prince Harry will be doing more Army training at the base at Wattisham in Suffolk.

He has returned to the UK after completing a major exercise in the US flying Apache helicopters with the Army, St James's Palace said.

The royal spent two months taking part in Exercise Crimson Eagle in California and Arizona.

Harry flew the choppers in mountainous and desert conditions, during both the day and night, as well as firing the aircraft's weapons.

A Palace source said Harry, known as Captain Wales in the Army, returned home on Monday night.

He and his fellow students have not quite completed their Apache Conversion To Role course, as they still have some training to do at the base at Wattisham in Suffolk.

The 27-year-old has already been taught to fly the helicopter, and the exercise, split between Naval Air Facility El Centro in California and Gila Bend Auxiliary Air Force Base in Arizona, was designed to prove his proficiency in handling the aircraft.

The exercise included aviation environment and judgment training, and then a live firing phase where the students fired all of the aircraft weapons systems within realistic tactical scenarios.

Lt Col Peter Bullen, chief of staff of the Attack Helicopter Force at Wattisham Airfield said: "Exercise Crimson Eagle is a challenging exercise during which students have had an opportunity to practise skills in a demanding environment with conditions similar to those in Afghanistan.

In the aviation business we encourage a continual learning process, however the students will certainly leave the States feeling more confident in their own abilities to be able to deliver Apache support in a challenging environment.

Students will return to the UK and complete a period of further training before finishing their Conversion To Role course.''

If the prince completes his training it will prompt questions about if, and when, he will be deployed back to Afghanistan.

Harry was secretly flown to Helmand Province, southern Afghanistan, in December 2007 to work as a forward air controller, serving for 10 weeks.

The royal has spoken publicly a number of times about his wish to serve his country on operations.

In April, while training for an Arctic expedition, he suggested it would be pointless to undertake costly helicopter training if he never went into combat.

He said: "You become a very expensive asset, the training's very expensive and they wouldn't have me doing what I'm doing.

I'd just be taking up a spare place for somebody else if they didn't have me going out on the job.''

St James's Palace has always stressed that the issue of the prince deploying on operations is a "matter for the Ministry of Defence chain of command''.

Given the security implications of sending Harry back to Afghanistan, the final decision is likely to be taken by the head of the Armed Forces, General Sir David Richards, in consultation with the Prime Minister.

A Palace spokesman has said that if Harry completes the course he would be a fully trained pilot.

He added: "He will then be assigned to one of the Apache squadrons within 16 Air Assault Brigade where he will gain wider experience flying Apaches and taking part in exercises in the United Kingdom."