The successful raid that killed Osama bin Laden has generated all kinds of public and professional interest. One of the most intriguing aspects of the operation was the use of what appears to be a modified MH-60 Black Hawk helicopter. Having suffered an airworthiness accident on landing, the Navy SEALs were forced to blow up the helicopter. However, just enough of the platform survived to present the picture of what can only be termed a stealthy helicopter.
Experts looking at photographs of the tail section of the helicopter noted a number of distinctive features. The tail rotor had five blades instead of the normal four. There was a shield, some call it a hubcap, over the tail rotor that appeared designed to both deflect radar waves and muffle sound. The stabilizers were canted at an angle reminiscent of the tail of the F-117 stealth fighter. Rather than being painted in camouflage colors, the tail section had a smooth, grey coating that suggested radar or infrared absorbing material.
A number of observers have wondered whether the government of Pakistan will provide access to the helicopter’s remains to China. The idea of a stealth helicopter is not new. The U.S. Army’s erstwhile Comanche armed reconnaissance helicopter had stealth features. But the fact that the U.S. modified some number of Black Hawks could spur other nations to pursue development of their own versions.
But the real issue is the emergent competition over stealth. The U.S. is the world’s dominant power when it comes to stealth aircraft. It has already deployed the B-2 bomber and F-22 fighter. In a few years it will begin deploying three variants of the advanced, stealthy F-35, including a short takeoff and landing model. China this year unveiled its first stealth fighter. Beijing may want the Black Hawk’s remains solely to examine its stealth coating. Russia also has a stealth fighter in the works
The evidence of the special-operations Black Hawk is a reminder that the battle for stealth is ongoing and even intensifying. The U.S. must continue to make the investment to stay ahead in this vital area.
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