MH-6M serial 81-23632 prepares to land alongside an MH-47G. Both types are operated by the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (Airborne).
MH-60M serial 13-20268 of the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment prepares to land at Naval Base Guam while conducting joint training with the 1st Marine Raider Battalion’s Marine Special Operations Team 8123.
A 4th Battalion, 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment MH-47G conducts a Maritime External Air Transportation System (MEATS) training evolution at Moses Lake, Washington, with naval special warfare crewmen from Special Boat Team 12.
The pilots and crew of the 160th SOAR (A) are chosen from the Army’s elite. However, their operations benefit from the most technologically advanced helicopters, systems, and weaponry available. Originally formed as a small task force in response to the Iranian hostage crisis of 1980, the 160th has grown to four battalions. Trained to operate in any terrain or conditions, their pioneering night-fighting abilities earned them the title “Night Stalkers.” With various types of MH-47s, MH-60s plus MH and AH-6M Little Birds, their crew and helicopters have been deployed worldwide on covert attack, assault, and reconnaissance operations, providing specialist aviation support to both regular and special forces. Secret long-range infiltration is now a hallmark of the 160th SOAR (A)’s capabilities (for example, the 2011 raid on Osama bin Laden’s Pakistani compound). Due to their clandestine nature, the majority of the 160th’s high-risk combat exploits will remain classified for years to come, but as Major Wolfe acknowledges, “We are a unit who make history and someday organizations like Historic Flight Foundation will be helping to keep the memory of what we’ve done, especially over the last decade, alive.”
The Army’s special operations aviation (SOA) fleet has undergone significant expansion since 2001 and has seen a great deal of action. Operated by the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (Airborne) [SOAR(A)] `Nightstalkers’, the fleet of heavily modified helicopters includes light attack and assault, medium attack and assault and heavy-lift aircraft. The aircraft, which are located at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington, and Hunter AAF, Georgia, include 51 AH/MH-6Ms, 69 MH-47Gs and 72 MH-60Ms.
Based on the MD Helicopters MD530F airframe, the AH-6M and MH-6M Mission Enhanced Little Birds (MELB) are equipped with extensive modifications that enable them to conduct the special operations mission. Fielding of the AH/MH-6M began in November 2003 and was completed in 2007 when the last AH/MH-6Js were upgraded. The MELB features a Rockwell Collins digital glass cockpit and the MH-6M is equipped with the FLIR Systems AN/ZSQ-3(v)1 EO/IR sensor turret; the AN/ZSQ-3(v)2 is carried by the AH-6M and features a laser rangefinder/ designator (LRF/D).
Block 2.0 modifications provided the MELBs with increased fuel capacity and strengthened landing skids. Delivery of aircraft equipped with the Block 2.2 modifications is under way and Block 3.0 upgrades are undergoing flight-testing. That effort will provide the MELB with new rotor blades, and a digital cockpit upgrade. The block upgrades on the type will be completed by 2022.
The AH-6M is tasked as a light attack helicopter, and is capable of carrying a variety of weapons on lightweight pylons including 7.62mm M134 miniguns, 2.75in (70mm) rocket pods in M260 seven-round rocket pods, laser-guided AGM-114 Hellfire missiles and .50-caliber GAU-19 three-barrel Gatling guns. The unarmed MH-6M is tasked as a light assault helicopter and can insert and extract up to six combat troops on external personnel pods (planks). It is equipped with a fast rope insertion/extraction system (FRIES) and special patrol insertion and extraction system (SPIES) capability.
The Little Birds, which can be rapidly prepared for air transportation and reconfigured for flight, will be replaced sometime around 2030.
Covert Black Hawks
Intended as a replacement for the 160th SOAR’s fleet of MH-60K and MH-60L models, fielding of the MH-60M began in February 2011 and was completed in October 2015 when the last of 72 aircraft was delivered. The final pair of MH-60Ks was retired in August 2014.
The MH-60M fleet is being upgraded to a new Block 1.0 configuration, deliveries of which should begin in 2017. In addition to providing the MH-60M with greater directional control safety margins during certain hot and high environmental conditions, the Block 1.0 upgrade program takes in various mission equipment enhancements including secure real-time video, hostile fire indicator system and other technology insertions. Planned Block 2.0 and 3.0 upgrades will provide an improved mission processor, upgraded data bus, embedded GPS inertial navigation system (EGI), new crashworthy seats, updated avionics and the ITEP powerplants.
The MH-60M Direct Action Penetrator (DAP) is capable of carrying an array of weapons that allow it to conduct armed escort and close air support missions. The weapons are carried on stub wings, known as the Light Armament Support Structure (LASS). Weapons that can be carried by the MH-60M include 7.62mm M134 miniguns, 30mm M230 chain guns, M261 2.75in (70mm) 19-round rocket pods, AGM-114 laser-guided Hellfire missiles, AIM-92 Air-to-Air Stinger (ATAS) missiles and the .50-caliber GAU-19/A Gatling gun.
The MH-60M features a night vision goggle-compatible CAAS digital `glass’ cockpit, a nose-mounted Raytheon AN/APQ-174 multi-mode terrain-following/ terrain-avoidance (TF/TA) radar and an AN/ZSQ-2 electro-optical sensor system (EOSS). The current radar will eventually be replaced by the AN/APQ-187 Silent Knight TF/ TA MMR. Like the MH-47G the type has an extendable aerial refueling probe. The helicopter is powered by a pair of 2,638shp (1,967kW) General Electric YT706-GE-700 (CT7-8B5) engines and has a maximum gross take-off weight of 24,500lb (11,113kg).
The Army also operates several Mil Mi-17-1V and Mi-8MTV-1 helicopters that support the training of US and foreign pilots and flight engineers. The `Hips’ are operated by C Company, 1st Battalion, 223rd Aviation Regiment, which serves as the US Army’s Non-Standard Rotary Wing Aviation training squadron.
The first MH-47G was delivered in January 2005 and the variant’s initial deployment to Afghanistan in support of Operation `Enduring Freedom’ (OEF) began in early 2007. Initially, 35 CH-47Ds were updated to MH-47G configuration, and they were followed by nine MH-47Ds and 17 MH-47Es. Delivery of the last of 62 remanufactured MH-47Gs took place in March 2011. Boeing subsequently delivered the first of eight new-build MH-47Gs in October 2014.
Besides systems that are shared with the CH-47F, the MH-47G has the AN/ALQ-211 suite of integrated radio frequency countermeasures (SIRFC) and CMWS, the Raytheon AN/ZSQ-2(V1) electro-optical sensor system (EOSS) and the AN/ APQ-174 or AN/APQ-187 Silent Knight terrain-following/terrain avoidance (TF/TA) multi-mode radar (MMR).
MH-47Gs are flown in the heavy assault role and are tasked with the insertion/extraction of special operations forces, being able to carry up to 44 combat troops. The MH-47G renew program of record (POR) was authorized as a recapitalization/modernization initiative that will replace 61 MH-47G sheet metal airframes with newly built monolithic machined airframes. Deliveries will begin in 2020.