On Aug. 14, the Financial Times and the NYT, followed by other media all around the world, published the news that in the days after Operation Neptune’s Spear Pakistan’s intelligence gave China the opportunity to examine the remains of the Stealth Black Hawk that crash landed during the raid that killed Osama bin Laden.
Is this really a front page news? In my opinion, it is not, as it was quite predictable. We have already seen videos and pictures of chunks of the top secret radar-evading helicopter, being moved from the Bin Laden’s compound at Abbottabad. Not only the tail rotor section, that had remained almost intact and whose shape indicated that the one involved in the incident was not a common MH-60, but even smaller parts, like the one collected by Adam Roberts of the Economist on May 3, 2011, that had also a Part Number on it.
Furthermore, China is Pakistan’s main military equipment supplier and ties among both nations are extremely tough and, to let things even simpler, Islamabad has never accepted that the US carried out the raid without Pakistan’s prior approval.
Hence, it was quite obvious that Chinese would soon be able to have parts of the Stealth technology used to make a “Silent Black Hawk”. How long does it take for China to have its chopper capable to elude radar? Not so much. Most probably, one or two years, considering the number of Stealth fighters being developed by Beijing and the ability of Chinese engineers to copy classified Western technologies.
Although they can’t be considered as a handbook for Stealth choppers, the fuselage concepts for low radar cross section aircraft configurations designed at the end of the ’70s still apply today and the concepts behind them could be still useful to imagine the real shape of the Stealth Black Hawk.
That’s why I’ve used them to create the famous Stealth Black Hawk concept that will appears in today’s newspapers until the real modified “Silent Hawk” will be disclosed or until China will announce its first Stealth chopper….
Those who were worried that China could get its hands on some pieces of the ill-fated chopper that crashed in the Osama Bin Laden compound to reverse-engineer the Stealth helicopter have to accept the unpleasant reality that the Chinese have already copied it. As a matter of fact, on May 23, 2011, Dragon Models (based in Hong Kong, China) announced a new model (to be released in July): the 1/144 scale Stealth Helicopter “Operation Geronimo” (Twin Pack).
Image: Dragon Model Limited
If you look at the artwork on the box, you’ll notice that the one created so quickly by DML is quite similar to the concept I developed with Ugo Crisponi. It has the same (fictional) intakes and exhausts, and the overall shape is almost identical. To be honest it also includes some of the inaccuracies of our famous MH-60X rendering (dated May 5) that we fixed in a subsequent “release” (published on May 17) and a few more (based on the artwork, the blades seem quite unrealistic while the horizontal stabilizers are different from what the pictures suggest).
Anyway, here below you can find the May 5 sketch and if you compare it to the above image, you’ll see that, most probably, I and Ugo had the same ideas about the Stealth Black Hawk as the Dragon graphic designers. Noteworthy, the model comes with the unofficial/unconfirmed raid’s codename, since the official one is Operation Neptune’s Spear and not Operation Geronimo (“Geronimo” was the codeword for Bin Laden’s capture or death).
Above: the Stealth Black Hawk rendering I published on this site on May 5. Below the new version issued today (May 31, 2011).
Here’s an excerpt of how Dragon introduces its new model:
[…] Looking like a mixture of MH-60 Black Hawk and F-117 Stealth Fighter, this mysterious helicopter from the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (SOAR) has distinctive edges and angles. The fuselage, nose and tail were all modified to reduce the craft’s radar cross-section.
[…]Befitting the innovative and ultra-secretive shape of the helicopter, this model is newly tooled in every aspect. All the low-observable features such as the angled surfaces are carefully rendered. […]
To be or not to be [Stealth]: that is the question
If Drangon dared to venture into a Stealth model about which we still know very little (even if a 1/144 scale is small enough to “hide” some unknown details), Italian model manufacturer Italeri, took a different approach. Instead of producing a small kit of the Stealth Black Hawk basing on few pictures or artworks they announced a larger 1:48 UH-60/MH-60 Black Hawk “Night Raid”. The model box in this case is depicted performing a “generic” Special Forces operation inside a compound in Afghanistan (or Iraq).
Italeri told me that they have decided not to launch a product that, most likely, would have been quite different from the real Stealth Black Hawk, given the few images and known facts available to date. So they released a “normal” Black Hawk even if they are ready to work on a realistic “Silent Hawk” as soon as new details about the modified MH-60 used in the OBL raid will surface.
Whatever the choice (stealth or not stealth), such a quick reaction by both Dragon Models and Italeri shows how fast the response to a news story (and to the subsequent market demand) can be.
Dealing with the daily updates about the OBL raid and the Stealth helicopter, here’s an interesting news: on May 30 some media reported the (unconfirmed) news that two helicopters crossed the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan to take five Taliban members in North Waziristan, and bring them back across the border into Afghanistan. This article provides an interesting analysis of the episode. Obviously, I’m not suggesting Stealth Black Hawks were involved again; however, given that the targets were high-value ones and that this kind of mission (once again in “enemy territory”), if confirmed, would be probably carried out by Special Forces, who knows?
The appearance of the new J-20 (unofficially dubbed “Black Eagle”) raised many questions about the Chinese stealth fighter. Some experts think it will be more capable than the F-22 while others (and I’m among these ones) think that the real problem for the US with the J-20 is not with the aircraft’s performances, equipment and capabilities (even if the US legacy fighters were designed 20 years earlier than current Chinese or Russian fighters of the same “class”); the problem is that China will probably build thousands of them.
Anyway, comparing the US and Chinese fighters, everybody referred to “fifth generation planes” bringing once again the concept of “fighter generation” under the spotlight.
Generations are a common way to classify jet fighters. Often, generations have been “assigned” to fighters in accordance with the timeframes encompassing the peak period of service entry for such aircraft.
The best definition I’ve found so far of fighter generations is the one contained in an article published in 2009 by Air Force Magazine, that proposes a generations break down based on capabilities:
Generation 3: Supersonic speed; pulse radar; able to shoot at targets beyond visual range.
Generation 4: Pulse-doppler radar; high maneuverability; look-down, shoot-down missiles.
Generation 4+: High agility; sensor fusion; reduced signatures.
Generation 4++: Active electronically scanned arrays; continued reduced signatures or some “active” (waveform canceling) stealth; some supercruise.
Generation 5: All-aspect stealth with internal weapons, extreme agility, full-sensor fusion, integrated avionics, some or full supercruise.
Potential Generation 6: extreme stealth; efficient in all flight regimes (subsonic to multi-Mach); possible “morphing” capability; smart skins; highly networked; extremely sensitive sensors; optionally manned; directed energy weapons.
In order to give the readers an idea of the type of aircraft belonging to each generation I’ve prepared the following table with the help of Tom Cooper / ACIG.org and Ugo Crisponi / Aviatiographic.com, who provided the profiles.
As I’ve already commented on Twitter, what such a table should let you understand at a glance is that capabilities and appearance are inversely proportional: former generations aircraft look much better than more modern fighters…..
In a recent article about the USS Nimitz and the 5th Fleet, describing why an aircraft carrier is always on the move I explained: “…..upon reaching a specific area of operations, the ship tends to keep it for several days, “orbiting” in international waters so as unpredictable as possible to avoid exposure to unlikely, but not impossible, extremely difficult long-range ballistic shootings “. In fact, when I wrote that text, I knew that China was developing the first ASBM (Anti-Ship Ballistic Missile) with a range of 3.000 kilometers and speed in excess of Mach 10 but didn’t know they were close to deploy it. I actually thought and still believe that, although most probably achieving the IOC (Initial Operational Capability), the DF21D (Dong Feng) “carrier killer” missile still has years of tests needed to tune its guidance system before it can be considered a real threat. Indeed, no over-water tests, required to evaluate the accuracy of the missile to pinpoint moving targets, has been announced or unveiled by intelligence sources. However, the ASBM threat has to be taken in proper consideration if “mobility” and “power projection” will remain the two key concepts behind the U.S. naval doctrine in the next few years. In the meanwhile Popular Mechanics provides some info about how the ASBMs work.