A couple of house keeping issues here to add to my Stealth Blackhawk / Bin Laden Raid coverage (for all my extensive and news making coverage on this event please click here). First off Phil Bronstein’s controversial feature in Esquire Magazine “The Man Who Killed Bin Laden… Is Screwed” had a trove of new info and perspective on the raid, and a couple interesting tidbits about the Stealth Helicopters used for it, that are worth mentioning, especially as it came from a source that was the guy that popped UBL himself.
1.) The team of DEVGRU commandos assigned to the mission thought infiltrating into Pakistan, and exfiltrating for that matter, was a death sentence, and had no clue that they would be using a new piece of experimental technology for their transportation until well through their training for the raid. Here is the excerpt from the article, it is very telling and humorous:
When we got to Nevada a few days later, where the team trained on another full-scale compound model, but this one crudely fashioned from shipping containers, we turned the corner, saw the helos we’d actually use, and I started laughing. I told the guys, “The odds just changed. There’s a 90 percent chance we’ll survive.” They asked why. I said, “I didn’t know they were sending us to war on a fucking Decepticon.” For the mission, they’d be slipping through the night in the latest model of stealth Black Hawk helicopters.
Not only is this quote hilarious but it is quite an interesting note in that we can derive a few things from it. First, these helicopters look unlike anything this TIER ONE special operator has ever seen. Probably like putting a Cessna 172 next to a Lancair. Second, these things are probably fairly new to the inventory and their force size is incredibly small. Third, that these helicopters live at Groom Lake or possibly Tonopah (if there are a full squadron of them) as none of these men had seen them before they went to the Nevada Ranges to train specifically with them. All the training on the mock compounds on the East Coast were done using regular (every thing is relative in combat aviation) assets. One could even propose that these machines may have still been in testing and were rushed into service for this mission, although this is just one of a couple possibilities.
2.) A newly mentioned option was considered instead of the raid or just pounding the place with 16 JDAMs from a B-2. Referred to as a “Hammer Throw,” this option was to use a small, low collateral damage monition dropped by a drone to take “The Pacer” out. The question is what type of drone in inventory could have done such a thing? I would imagine something very small, akin to a flying grenade (see this post) launched clandestinely close by, or by an unknown low observable drone, or perhaps a RQ-170 derivative (is that a SLAR behind its turret or is it a small weapons bay, this question has still never been answered). For the largest and most detailed RQ-170 coverage on the net, click here: http://aviationintel.com/category/iranian-rq-170-incident/
3.) In the case that the team was overran by Pakistani military there were multiple fixed winged assets orbiting on the border ready to push in to give the SEALs precision fire support from the air. We already could easily assume this, and then there is the real possibility that this was the F-22 first operation in theater, it’s just one more verification of this fact. 1+ for the Obama Administration for having the balls to not leave these guys hanging in the wind if something went very wrong. Reinforcements are one thing, shooting down Pakistani F-16s and bombing the Pakistani military just a few miles from their West Point is a whole other level of “all in.” Bravo to the administration once again on this fact.
4.) On the way into the Pakistan the crew of the Stealth Blackhawk would tell the men that they had not been painted by radar about every 15 minutes. The men were extremely concerned not just for themselves but for the MH-47s that would follow them a portion of the way into Pakistan. Although the MH-47s have cutting edge jamming gear, the SEAL thought that they were sitting ducks in comparison to their situation. The MH-47 has a fantastic terrain following radar system along with all an integrated threat warning and jamming system which no doubt helped hide its infiltration, along with probably everything from reactive standoff jamming from aircraft on the border to cyber incursions/attacks on Pakistan’s integrated air defense system. I would not rule out a low observable UAV with localized jamming and network relay capability over the target either, especially to monitor and jam enemy communications. The stealth helicopters may or may not have low probability of intercept terrain following radar, but the days of such systems being the only game in town for low-level penetration are numbered. Using the DoD’s and our intelligence services’ precise geo-spacial wizardry it is theoretically possible, and actually semi-operational in the commercial world to some extent, to fly nap of the earth using a synthetic terrain following system. One that emits no electro-magnetic energy and that does not require heavy and un-stealthy radar arrays. Imagine synthetic vision and terrain avoidance systems now available to even the general aviation world, and enhance it dramatically by combining a precise autopilot system with incredibly accurate terrain information. Such technology would no doubt be at the top of a the Stealth Blackhawk designers “to add” list.
The aviation bits from this fantastic article, although incredibly relevant to this site’s continuing narrative on this historic event, are far from the focus of the Esquire piece. There are great insights to be had from this man’s first hand accounts, and in many ways it is the perfect companion to Mark Owen’s “No Easy Day” which I thoroughly reviewed and debriefed on this site just hours after its release (see here and here). The main point of Bronstein’s essay is clearly to illuminate the fact that our military, and our nation, has failed our super-warriors when it comes to transitioning these heroes into civilian life. The fact that these men are paid on a similar level to those of similar rank who take much less risk and have far less unique abilities and training is sickening and it needs to change. Do yourself a favor and read this fantastic article for yourself: http://www.esquire.com/features/man-who-shot-osama-bin-laden-0313
A second, and more novelty-related piece of information regarding the Bin Laden Raid I had sent to me recently is what appears to be the 160th SOAR’s challenge coin for the historical event. I have been told that this is the real deal buy those who should know, although multiple versions could exist. Oh and it’s for sale on Ebay for around $500 from a reputable seller!