London, Nov 23 : Almost two-third of Apache attack helicopters used by Britsh Army is not fit for front line operations.
The Telegraph reported that just 20 helicopters are fit for service out of available 67 with the Army Air Corps, for combat in Afghanistan or for training pilots in the United Kingdom.
The helicopter, which has proven to be a battle-winning asset in Afghanistan, where it provides close combat support to British troops, has become another victim of the overstretch affecting the whole of Britain's armed forces.
The heat and dust of the Helmand desert and the constant use of the aircraft on combat operations has started to degrade the fighting capability of the entire fleet, The Telegraph quoted defence sources, as saying.
The highly sophisticated aircraft requires many hours of servicing every month and the arduous conditions in southern Afghanistan, where temperatures in the summer can reach 45C, dramatically shortens the life of the engine and the Apache's rotor blades. etails released by the Ministry of Defence in answer to a parliamentary question submitted by the Conservative Party show that just 53 per cent of the 40 strong Chinook fleet, which provides vital support in Helmand, are regarded as "it for purpose".
The newly released figures also show that approximately 55 per cent of the RAF's Hercules Transport aircraft, which resupply troops in both the Iraq and Afghanistan, are now capable of taking part in operations.
The Apache provides vital "top cover" for troops in Helmand and is on constant call when soldiers' patrol into enemy controlled areas such as the "Green Zone".
The heavily armed Apache, which is equipped with a 30mm chain gun, Hydra rockets and Hellfire anti-tank missiles, has saved numerous British lives.
The aircraft is now so essential to the military mission in Helmand that troops rarely venture out on large-scale operations without support from the Apache. The helicopter is also fitted with a vast array of highly sophisticated night vision equipment and is often used on reconnaissance missions.