Operation Neptune’s Spear explained

So far, with the help of Ugo Crisponi, I’ve been able to offer my readers a possible view of the Stealth Black Hawk involved in the Osama Bin Laden’s raid. However, although I’ve already underlined since my very first post on this topic that there MUST be much more flying assets involved in the complex mission, I think that it could be interesting to draw a possible “picture” of all the aircraft taking part in Operation Neptune’s Spear. This is obviously just one of the ways to piece facts together but it seems to me the more reasonable for a series of things I’ll briefly discuss. First of all let me stress a concept: the Stealth Black Hawk that crashed in the OBL (Osama Bin Laden) compund was not so stealth to be completely invisible. Indeed, to answer again to my famous Twitter friend @PrimorisEra (for an interesting comment on her intriguing “saga”, read here): I agree, no aircraft can achieve complete stealthiness; choppers in particular, with all those rotating parts, are not so easy to hide to radars.

Not being completely radar-evading, the choppers (I believe more than 2) were covered by some EW platforms, probably in the form of either EA-6B Prowlers from USS Enterprise or EA-18G Growlers from USS Carl Vinson, both currently in the North Arabian Sea. I’m pretty sure that a US supercarrier in the area played an important role in the entire operation: being involved in Operation Enduring Freedom, it launches on a daily basis its assets belonging to the Carrier Air Wing along the Transit Corridors to Afghanistan. Any activity along the TCs across Pakistan would appear absolutely normal to the Pakistani controllers. For the same reason, it is possible that at least an E-2C Hawkleye and a pair of Super Hornets (F-18E or F) launched by the Big-E were used to provide respectively AEW (Airborne Early Warning – air space management) for the entire operation and DCA (Defensive Counter Air): the mini-AWACS could detect any Pakistan AF fighter being scrambled against the formation of helicopters bringing the US Navy Seals to Abbottabad and the “Rhinos” could be directed against the interceptors to provide cover.

  1. Where did the helo depart from? Most probably, Jalalabad. The RQ-170 was seen at Kandahar so I assume it operated out of KAF.
  2. How many helicopters involved? More than 2, maybe 4 (plus spares?).
  3. How many were (let’s say) “stealth”? All of them. If one or two were stealth, both both those approaching Osama Bin Laden’s compound had to be stealth to ensure “stealthiness” of the formation.
  4. Which models? I think there are two possibilities: both were Silent/Stealth/Upgraded/Modified/etc. Black Hawks; or 2 were Stealth Black Hawks and Stealth Chinooks. I don’t believe that “normal” MH-47s were involved as some media speculated (for the above mentioned considerations on the stealthiness of the formation) so, I’m almost sure only new Black Hawks were used. However, since we now know that a Black Helicopter exists, I can’t completely rule out the possibility that, along with a Stealth Black Hawk, somewhere there’s also some sort of modified Stealth Chinook flying.
  5. Supporting aircraft? Many: KC-130Js provided air-to-air refueling to the assets (notice: all probe equipped), an RQ-170 provided detailed FMV of the target area, an RC-135 Rivet Joint performed SIGINT activity, an EC-130H provided EW jamming communication, Early Warning/Acquisition radar and navigation systems along with the above mentioned Prowlers/Growlers; an E-2 provided AEW, while an E-6 ABNCP acted as an airborne command post (Airborne Command, Control and Communications Platform). MV-22s (or C-2?) were waiting for the command to return to Jalalabad to carry OBL body on board Carl Vinson. MH-47s and other “back up” aircraft could be present as well, both on the ground and CAPping “on call”. BTW all aircraft orbited within the Afghan airspace.

As said, this is obviously just one of the possible descriptions of the mission. If I’ve missed something or if you think something must be fixed, just let me know. Even if I can’t be sure on the actual number of involved aircraft, I’m more than sure it was an extremely complex operation!

About David Cenciotti 4451 Articles
David Cenciotti is a freelance journalist based in Rome, Italy. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviationist”, one of the world’s most famous and read military aviation blogs. Since 1996, he has written for major worldwide magazines, including Air Forces Monthly, Combat Aircraft, and many others, covering aviation, defense, war, industry, intelligence, crime and cyberwar. He has reported from the U.S., Europe, Australia and Syria, and flown several combat planes with different air forces. He is a former 2nd Lt. of the Italian Air Force, a private pilot and a graduate in Computer Engineering. He has written four books.

5 Comments

  1. Everyone misses the obvious. To fly a body out of Afghanistan to Arabian sea you have fly almost all the way over Pakistani airspace. How could that be done, and we would have had to land on Pakistani territory to transfer body to helicopter that could land on carrier. This whole thing is a lie and completely made up, Pakistan would have had to be in on the whole thing, or no body was ever flown out of afghanistan.

  2. I don’t think anyone has also mentioned that the CIA/US Army had ground teams observing the house prior to the raid, these were most likely ISA activity guys who prep a site for the raid, they made the call and trigger the go ahead for the president and made sure bin laden was actually in the compound for the night. These ISA teams would have ballsy job of traveling into PAK days before the raid undercover as civilians, mark the landing zone with IR strobes etc and then observer and report afterwards. These guys would be dressed as PAK nationals and would speak the language. After the missions completed they would leave quietly.

  3. Very interesting but the Vision Air Wing does not contain a Growler squadron. Originally CVW 17 was to have VAQ-138 but they were assigned an expeditonary mission.

  4. Hi David,
    The E-6B acting as ABCCC first deployed to Stuttgart which is nothing out of the ordinary. It then, the day of the raid repositioned to RAF Mildenhall and took off during the evening (I was there watching it – and listening to its orderwire). It was to provide command and control to two B-2A Spirits which crossed the Atlantic and through the Med Sea. These were “backups” if the primary assets failed. The B-2s were to obliterate the compound.
    The B-2As were picked up by HF monitors and in communication with the E-6B throughout the mission period. They turned around once mission was a success and air assets were flying back into Afghanistan (Jalalabad).

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