This post is also available in: עברית (Hebrew)
Britain’s shadowy, top tier counter-terror unit sprung into action during the dastardly van and knife attack on civilians in London on June 3. The arrival of an unmarked blue and white AS365N3 Dolphin helicopter couldn’t have taken on a higher-profile, as the commando-laden chopper touched down right on London Bridge shortly after the mayhem had ended. Apparently, this is the first time the unit’s presence at the scene was made overtly clear.
According to thedrive.com, the counter-terrorism unit, which by some accounts was organized before the 2012 Olympics, and by other accounts shortly after the 2015 attacks on Paris, is said to be made up of about 70 Special Air Service (SAS) operators and a support staff tailored to their unique mission set.
The commandos are thought to be made up of a sub-force of the vaunted 22nd SAS Regiment in particular. Their helicopters are flown by 658 Squadron of the Army Air Corps, based at Credenhill, alongside SAS headquarters.
The unit supposedly has a stovepipe-like command structure that reports directly to the Home Secretary. Small teams from the unit sit alert at a handful of airfields around the country, ready to respond to a terrorist act on short notice, and use the specially outfitted blue and white Dolphin II helicopters at their disposal to rush them to the scene of an unfolding attack.
The Dolphins have special radio communications suites. Some of these helicopters, 658 Squadron has five in all, have been seen outfitted with a FLIR ball under the right side of their fuselages.
They are also capable of fast-roping operations for rapid tactical insertions even in tight quarters. The helicopters are also likely night-vision compatible, as they may have to make sneak insertions at night in close proximity to the enemy.
The UK media has mentioned that “Blue Thunder” helicopters and the SAS counter-terror unit they support can operate with British Army Apache Ah1 Attack Helicopters. This is likely true, but not because the Apache packs a 30mm chain gun and Hellfire missiles, but because its sensor suite is extremely capable of collecting intelligence in urban environments. 658 Squadron also flies Gazelle scout helicopters, which could put their own sensors to use in a similar fashion during a large-scale counter-terror operation.