The first images of the remains of a helicopter used by US Navy SEAL Team Six in Operation Neptune’s Spear, the raid that killed Osama Bin Laden, caused a stir among aviation experts and enthusiasts globally. The images, which began appearing on social media on May 2, 2011, were of parts that seemed to belong to an unknown type.
The tail rotor had an unusual cover that could have been anything from an armour plate to a noise reduction cover, sheltering motion-control technology already tested by NASA and used to input low-frequency variations in rotor blade pitch angle. The aircraft’s rotor blades were flatter rather than wing shaped, and its paint finish extremely similar to the anti-radar paint and radar-absorbing material used on modern stealth fighters. Nothing was common to the Black Hawk, Chinook or Apache helicopters.
According to the few official statements released in the aftermath of the raid, the helicopter did not suffer a failure, but skittered uncontrollably in the heat-thinned air, forcing the pilot to crash land. As he did, the tail rotor hit one of the 12ft (3.7m) walls surrounding Bin Laden’s Abbottabad, Pakistan compound.
Whatever the cause of the crash (human error while flying on night-vision goggles (NVGs), wake turbulence generated by the other helicopter on the mission, or `recirculation’ are all possibilities), the SEALs reportedly attempted to destroy it to hide its technology. But the tail section survived because it had fallen outside the compound. Thus the world was treated to a glimpse of an advanced technology developed in the Cold War era, when the US ran a series of `black’ programmes aimed at easing Special Operations teams’ task of penetrating Soviet installations.
It is extremely difficult to say whether the helicopter involved in Operation Neptune’s Spear (also known as Operation Geronimo, after the code word used to designate Bin Laden) was an existing type heavily modified or a new design. But the images prove that Osama Bin Laden was such an important target, his elimination justified the use of a deeply secret technology.
A possible shape
I began studying the possible shape of what soon became known as the `Stealth Black Hawk’ or `Silent Hawk’. With the help of Aviation Graphic. com artist Ugo Crisponi, I imagined what the aircraft would have looked like after combining the tail section and main rotor revealed in the photographs, engine shields, rotor covers, additional main rotor blade (for a slower main rotor speed and reduced noise) and some imagination.
The fairly inaccurate initial sketch resembled an S-76 more than an MH-60, but even after subsequent reviews it appeared to be consistent with an in-depth study already in the public domain and freely available on an official US military website.
Issued in 1978 by Sikorsky Aircraft Division for the US Army Research and Technology Laboratories, this interesting document is entitled Structural Concepts and Aerodynamic Analysis for Low Radar Cross Section (LRCS) Fuselage Configurations. These first attempts at providing the UH-60 with stealth capabilities were useful for imagining possible modifications to the aircraft’s profile.
The Applied Technology Laboratory developed three LRCS fuselage configurations, both based on the tail surfaces and main rotor pylon fairing of the baseline UH-60A. The first configuration slightly altered the baseline fuselage around the cockpit, producing a modified nose and slightly increased overall length.
The second changed the fuselage shape to create a cross section similar to that of a truncated triangular prism, with increased overall length, width and height, and a narrower cockpit space. A vertical climb rate of such an aircraft would be only 15% that of the baseline UH-60A.
The third extended a canted, flat-sided shape along the fuselage. The narrow cockpit that resulted forced the pilot and co-pilot seats closer together, while the windscreen’s rake is believed likely to have caused visibility problems.
The document did not identify a specific LRCS configuration for a radar-evading Black Hawk, but the structural concepts developed for the study and aerodynamic analysis suggested a shape more like that of an F-117 than a more modern stealth aircraft, such as the F-22 or F-35.
The low observability project may have not been the only study to inspire the shape of the Stealth Black Hawk used in 2011. Some sources suggest that some of the MH-X technology may have come from the YEH- 60B Stand-Off Target Acquisition System (SOTAS), a Black Hawk variant designed to detect moving targets on the battlefield and downlink the information to an army ground station. The only SOTAS built for the US Army (flown in the early 1980s, before the programme was cancelled in favour of the E-8 JSTARS) had retractable main gear.
Other modifications may have been inspired from other prototypes then under development, including the Army’s Advanced Composite Airframe Programme (ACAP), which aimed to develop an all-composite helicopter fuselage lighter and less costly to build than the predominantly metal airframes in general use. Further work was probably done to reduce the overall RCS, perhaps including a flat windscreen with a gold layer for electrical continuity, fairings covering the push rods and main rotor hub, retractable inflight refuelling probe and IR suppressors.
In 2015, Relentless Strike, a book by award-winning defence journalist Sean Naylor provided details on the history of MH-X. He says the two helicopters involved in the Bin Laden raid were the first prototypes of a classified programme aimed at making the Black Hawk less visible to radar. A series of modifications was required, but left the helicopters tricky to control under certain conditions.
The prototypes were built and tested at Area 51, Nevada, but the programme was cancelled. When the need to infiltrate Pakistani airspace emerged, the two experimental airframes were selected to deliver the SEALs into Abbottabad.
Inspired by the successful outcome of the operation in Pakistan, the 160th SOAR `Night Stalkers’ flew the surviving MH-X in Syria, where it took part in the failed July 4, 2014 attempt to free American journalist James Foley and other captives from Daesh.
The presence of possible MH-X derivatives was also rumoured in a daring raid that killed high-level Daesh operative Abu Sayyaf at Deir Ezzor. He was eliminated at a position southeast of Raqqa, eastern Syria, on the night of May 15/16, 2015.
Based on information released by official sources and details in first-hand accounts of the Neptune’s Spear raid (including No Easy Day, by former Navy SEAL Matt Bissonnette), it is possible to draw a `picture’ of the SEAL Team Six attack. The two MH-Xs departed Jalalabad air base, Afghanistan, and flew to Abbottabad using callsigns `Chalk 1′ and `Chalk 2′. They infiltrated Pakistani airspace from the east. A pair of MH-47s was on standby at a forward air refuelling point (FARP) north of Abbottabad. These had brought in the personnel and materiel required to establish the FARP, and a combat search and rescue team.
In the event, one of the MH-47s flew to the compound to recover the crew of the crashed MH-X then flew directly to Jalalabad. The second MH-47 and surviving MH-X returned to Jalalabad via the FARP. An RQ-170 Sentinel drone from Kandahar supported the entire mission with detailed real-time full motion video of the target area.
Along with the 160th SOAR’s helicopters, many other aircraft are likely to have flown in support of Operation Neptune’s Spear, including the RC-135 Rivet Joint, gathering signals intelligence; the EC-130H for localised jamming of Pakistani communications; the E-2 and/or E-3 for airborne early warning, and airspace and tanker management; and the E-6, acting as an airborne command post and relaying orders directly from the White House.
Later, an MV-22 carried Osama Bin Laden’s body from Jalalabad to USS Carl Vinson, where the former al Qaeda leader was buried at sea. SEAL Team Six travelled from Jalalabad to Bagram in an MC-130.
Other aircraft might well have been involved, waiting on the ground or in the air, the latter probably having launched from one or both of the aircraft carriers stationed in the Persian Gulf at the time – USS Enterprise and USS Carl Vinson.
In a 2012 report written for a US global intelligence newsletter, F Michael Maloof, a former Pentagon senior policy analyst, suggested that the Israeli Air Force was equipped with the Stealth Black Hawk, as used in Operation Neptune’s Spear. He said the aircraft had been used to drop Iranian dissidents into Iran to gather intelligence on Tehran’s nuclear programme.
The US raid in Syria reminds of this secret stealth Black Hawk helicopter
In the night between May 15 and 16, 2015 U.S. Special Operations forces killed ISIS high level operative Abu Sayyaf, in a daring raid that took place in eastern Syria.
Little is known about the raid.
According to the CNN, the operation was conducted by U.S. Army’s Delta Force, which was carried to a residential building in Deir Ezzor, to the Southeast of Raqqa, by Army Blackhawk helicopters and Air Force CV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft.
It’s pretty obvious many other assets were actually involved in the raid, including support assets providing electronic support to the intruding choppers and drones, as happened during Operation Neptune’s Spear, for the killing of Osama Bin Laden.
The presence of some Air Force Special Operations Command Ospreys during a raid against ISIS is not a first.
U.S. Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft probably based in Kuwait have already conducted missions in Syria and Iraq: on Jul. 3, 2014, some V-22 aircraft were used to carry Delta Force commandos to a campsite in eastern Syria where ISIS militants were believed to hold American and other hostages (that had been moved by the time the commandos attacked the site).
On Aug. 13, 2014, V-22s deployed military advisers, Marines and Special Forces on Mount Sinjar to coordinate the evacuation of Yazidi refugees.
What could really be a “first” is the possible involvement of the Stealth Black Hawk helicopter exposed by the raid in Abbottabad, Pakistan, back in 2011.
For the moment it’s just a hypothesis, but Homeland Security suggests that the Delta Force team were transported deep into ISIS-held territory “via presumably stealth equipped Black Hawk helicopters” of the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (Airborne) “Night Stalkers”.
The U.S. Army special ops force provides support for both general purpose and special operations forces. They fly MH-47G Chinooks, MH-60L/K/DAP Black Hawks, A/MH-6M Little Birds, MH-X Silent Hawks (the latter is an unconfirmed designation for the Stealth Black Hawk), maybe stealthy Little Birds and stealthy Chinooks, as well as MQ-1C Gray Eagledrones.
160th SOAR’s Black Hawk helicopters presence in the region was first unveiled after an unspecified variant belonging to the U.S. Army took part in an unsuccessful raid to free captured American journalist James Foley and other captives from ISIS in eastern Syria in August 2014.
Even though American aircraft have already demonstrated their ability to operate completely undisturbed well inside the Syrian airspace, we can’t rule out the possibility that the Pentagon, as done in 2011 when the time to kill Bin Laden arrived, considered the importance of the most recent raid against the senior ISIS leader and the failure of at least a couple previous raids, decided to commit the most advanced and secret Black Hawk helicopter to the delicate mission against Abu Sayyaf: the stealth variant.
Read the original article on The Aviationist. Copyright 2015.