Tag Archives: Special Operations

Legendary U.S. Army Special Operations Force gets MQ-1C Gray Eagle drones

In May 2011, the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (Airborne) used two stealthy MH-X “Silent Hawk” (or Stealth Black Hawk) to infiltrate and exfiltrate U.S. Navy SEALs during the Osama Bin Laden raid.

At that time, nobody knew a radar-evading version of the Black Hawk helicopter existed. However, it was not such a big surprise that such an advanced weapons system was already in the hands of the aircrews of the legendary 160th SOAR, also known as “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 Black Hawks, A/MH-6M Little Birds, MH-X Silent Hawks (the latter is an unconfirmed designation) and maybe stealthy Little Birds and stealthy Chinooks as well.

160th SOAR mainly operate at night (hence their name) in attack, assault, reconnaissance, infiltration and exfiltration, and any kind of known or unknown special operations you may imagine.

Since Nov. 19, the Night Stalkers have welcomed the first MQ-1C Gray Eagle.

Gray Eagle is an advanced derivative of the Predator  specialized in providing direct operation control by Army field commanders. It can fly Reconnaissance, Surveillance, and Target Acquisition (RSTA); convoy protection; Improvised Explosive Device (IED) detection as well as providing live aerial imagery to ground patrols carrying also PGMs (Precision Guided Munitions).

160th SOAR recently formed E-Company will receive 12 Gray Eagle which will strengthen the U.S. Army Special Operations Aviation Command (ARSOAC) fleet of smaller RQ-11B Raven and RQ-7 Shadow UAS (Unmanned Aerial Systems) giving the Night Stalkers autonomous ISR (Intelligence Surveillance Reconnaissance) and attack capabilities over a larger area of interest.

E-Company

Image credit: U.S. Army

 

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Airborne Assault (how it looks like if you are not wearing Night Vision Goggles)

Pilots routinely wear Night Vision Goggles that can virtually turn night into day (more or less…).

But even soldiers and Special Operations teams use them (U.S. Navy SEAL Team 6 team wore NVGs during the raid that killed Osama Bin Laden).

Top image shows paratroopers assigned to 1st Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, conducting an airborne assault during Field Training Exercise (FTX), at Ft. Bragg, N.C., on Oct. 22, 2013.

The exercise simulates the execution of a large-scale forcible entry into a hostile area; securing sufficient freedom of movement while facing the anti-access and area-denial capabilities of our enemy.

The photograph shows the warfighters parachuting on a field to set up a camp and how it would look like if you were not wearing any Night Vision device.

Image credit: U.S. Air Force

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Night air-to-air refueling. From the cockpit of a C-17 cargo plane and through the Night Vision Goggles

Not only B-1, B-2 or B-52 strategic bombers (as well as the various tactical planes) need to refuel at night.

C-17 cargo planes, somehow used to carry Special Operations Forces require proper training to be able to deploy on intercontinental distances and to perform night, global reach missions.

The following video gives a hint of what refueling from a KC-10 Stratotanker aerial refueler looks like from the cockpit of a C-17, at night, through the green vision of the Night Vision Goggles.

 

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U.S. spyplanes, drones already flying over Mali

According to a U.S. official who spoke on condition of anonymity to the AFP on Jan. 12, the Pentagon would be evaluating the possible contribution to the French air campaign in Mali.

Intelligence gathering platforms, surveillance drones, aerial refueling tankers: these are the support options being considered by Washington.

Even if it still unclear whether France or Mali have officially request U.S. help, what is certain is that the U.S. has never ceased to pinpoint rebel positions and monitor their movements in the area.

In the wake of the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, that cost the life of the U.S. Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens on Sept. 11, 2011, the U.S. amassed Special Operations planes and helicopters in the Mediterranean area, and intensified ISR (Intelligence Surveillance Reconnaissance) activities in North and Central Africa from Sigonella, Sicily, Rota, Spain, and Souda Bay, Crete.

Whilst armed Predators followed insurgents in Cyrenaica, eastern Libya, Global Hawks flew high-altitude long range missions from the Mediterranean Sea, to Diego Garcia and return. Some of such missions went well inside Africa, and also in Northern Mali controlled by three Islamist armed groups, including Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).

However, not only unmanned platforms have been operating in the region.

Whereas EP-3Es conducted SIGINT (Signal Intelligence) missions from their standard bases in the Mediterranean area, several special “non-standard aviation assets” are based on a network of scarcely known airports across Africa: Uganda, South Sudan, Ethiopia, Djibouti and, above all, Burkina Faso, neighbouring Mali.

Some U-28As are reportedly based at Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso capital.

From there, these aircraft (a military version of the civil PC-12 purchased at a unit price of 3.5 million USD from the Swiss company Pilatus) have been flying surveillance missions in the region, pursuing rebels pick ups in the desert and possibly eavesdropping suspect radio communications.

U2bA

Image credit: U.S. Air Force

Other special operations planes (namely, some M-28 Skytrucks) used to carry special operators to places with unprepared landing strips and capable to perform special forces insertion and extraction in missions unsuitable for larger special ops aircraft (as the C-130 or the C-17), were spotted transiting through the UK on their way to a Middle East or African airport last year.

In order to keep a “low profile” and appear similar to general aviation aircraft during their clandestine missions, most of these special planes flying in Africa are painted in light gray or in white, as civilian planes, and sometimes they even carry civilian registrations.

Anyway, regardless what the official sources say, the U.S. are not evaluating whether to send reconnaissance planes, drones over Mali to collect intel data that could be useful for the French Air Force air strikes: such manned and unmanned aircraft have been operating and spying over the West Africa country for months.

Therefore, since Paris is probably already exploiting intel provided by Washington, what it needs the most from the U.S. is a bunch of aerial refuelers and cargo planes to sustain the air campaign.

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There are three planes and one US Army MH-47 of the 160th SOAR in this stunning night picture. Can you spot them all?

Taken at Geronimo Landing Zone near Fort Polk, Louisiana, during Joint Readiness Training Center – Decisive Action, on Oct. 18, 2012, the following image shows a U.S. Army MH-47 Chinook belonging to the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, the almost legendary special ops unit of the Army that provides helicopter aviation support to special operations forces (and that was involved, probably with Stealth Chinooks, in the Osama Bin Laden raid).

However, there are at least three more aircraft (barely) visible in the same breathtaking shot.

Can you spot them all?

Image credit: U.S. Army