Military experts and enthusiasts, alike, are buzzing over leaked images that allegedly expose a never-before-seen Black Hawk design. This excitement comes alongside worry, as the design and functionality exposed in the pictures could make its way into the hands of the Chinese or U.S. enemies abroad. And now, to add more intrigue into the mix, a retired special operations aviator claims that the design, itself, may be at the root cause of the helicopter’s crash during last week’s historic Navy SEAL operation.
To recap, ABC News reports:
In the course of the operation that cost the al Qaeda leader his life, one of the two Blackhawk helicopters that carried the SEALs into bin Laden's Pakistani compound grazed one of the compound's wall and was forced to make a hard landing. With the copter inoperable, at the end of the mission the SEALs destroyed it with explosives.
Among its unique features, the helicopter’s noise-reducing design is being credited by some as a contributor to the mission’s success. According to The Daily Beast:
In addition to the noise-reducing modifications, the helicopters had a different look than other military helicopters—sharper angles and flat surfaces more common to stealth jets.
Pakistan has reportedly claimed that the U.S. mission involved helicopters that were able to exploit “blind spots” in the nation’s radar monitoring systems. As a result, the copters traveled into Pakistani territory undetected. Interestingly, neighbors claim they didn’t hear the helicopters approaching bin Laden’s compound until they were directly overhead, a claim that corroborates expert opinion on the matter.
If all of this is accurate, then the new design played a key role in the covert operation and the subsequent assassination of Osama bin Laden. However, at least one source sees the Black Hawk’s new design as a potential liability. In an interview with The Army Times, the retired, former aviator claimed that it is these instrumental changes that may have caused the copter’s problems. According to the Times:
…low-observable modifications added “several hundred pounds” to the weight of the MH-60, which already weighs about 500 to 1000 pounds more than a regular UH-60 Black Hawk.
In addition to these concerns, information leaked to the public is also causing a stir. Following the crash, a Pakistani security official sold images of the wreckage to Reuters. Now, experts fear that foreign enemies could exploit these previously unseen technologies.
Pentagon officials have no comment on the incident, though Pakistan is expected to transfer the wreckage back to the U.S. Here’s a report from ABC News:
Clearly, this technology is of high value to the U.S. military and its use by foreign powers would be less than ideal. The images provide evidence that the U.S. military has been steadily working to improve the Black Hawk’s functionality. That said, past allegations of China’s exploitation of U.S. military technology certainly substantiates expert fears.
Whether the design contributed to the crash is still unsubstantiated, though the effectiveness of the mission cannot be dismissed. MSNBC has an excellent graphic that details the helicopter's specs: