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Did U.S. deploy super secret stealth helicopters?

K.V. Prasad

It was probably a highly modified version of an H-60 Black Hawk, says defence technology blogger

NEW DELHI: Did the world just get an inadvertent ‘tail boom' glimpse of a super secret stealth helicopter? That's the question being hotly debated in defence technology circles across the internet, with wonks and geeks poring over photographs of the tell-tale evidence left behind by the U.S. special forces who swooped in to kill Osama bin Laden in Pakistan this week.

The silent post-midnight operation by the Navy SEALs — who flew across the Afghanistan border into Abbottabad without even setting off a minor blimp on Pakistani radar screens and made an equally smooth exit some 40 minutes later — was flawless except for the loss of one helicopter. In the midst of their high-jinks mission, however, the U.S. forces took care to blow up the crashed helo.

Soon after the operation, military experts were of the view that U.S. helicopters managed to evade detection by deploying electronic counter measures that jam radars. On its part, Islamabad stated that the choppers entered Pakistani airspace making use of ‘nap of the earth' flying techniques and blind spots in radar coverage due to hilly terrain.

Lone clue

With the United States unwilling to share greater details about the operation, defence analysts have relied on the lone visible clue — the tail boom — of the helicopter destroyed by the U.S forces after it was damaged.

The metal scrap lying in the compound of the building, where bin Laden was found and killed, remains a mute and mangled witness to the successful operation. Military aviation enthusiasts have based their theory of a new stealth helicopter around the photograph of this metallic piece.

“It was a secretly developed stealth helicopter, probably a highly modified version of an H-60 Black Hawk. Photos published...show that the helicopter's tail features stealth-configured shapes on the boom and tip fairings, swept stabilizers and a ‘dishpan' cover over a non-standard five-or-six-blade tail rotor. It has a silver-loaded infra-red suppression finish similar to that seen on some V-22s,” wrote Avres, identified as a defence technology blogger, on Aviation Week.

Quoting a retired special operations aviator, Army Times said the helicopters were a radar-evading variant of the special operations MH-60 Black Hawk. The helicopter's low-observable technology is similar to that of the F-117 Stealth Fighter.

“It really didn't look like a traditional Black Hawk,” he said. It had “hard edges, sort of like an … F-117, you know how they have those distinctive edges and angles — that's what they had on this one,” the website quoted this unnamed aviator as saying.

In addition, “in order to keep the radar cross-section down, you have to do something to treat the windshield,” he said. If a special coating was applied to the windshield it is “very plausible” that would make the helicopter more difficult to fly for pilots wearing night-vision goggles, he said.

This is being seen as one of the possible reasons for the helicopter crashing. And considering the top-secret nature of the platform, the SEALs chose to waste valuable time destroying it.

The Pentagon has refused to comment on questions about the Black Hawks used in the bin Laden raid.

Dan Goure, a former Pentagon official now with the Lexington Institute think tank, told ABC News: “This is a first. You wouldn't know that it was coming right at you. And that's what's important, because these are coming in fast and low, and if they aren't sounding like they're coming right at you, you might not even react until it's too late ... That was clearly part of the success.”

Imponderable

With neither official confirmation nor denial forthcoming, the speculation is bound to continue.

The only thing certain is that air strategists and planners around the world will have one more imponderable to work on. What next?

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