Tag Archives: Special Operations

We Got Interesting Photos of The Secretive 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment’s Helicopters in Training

Images May Show Special Operations Unit Training with DEVGRU or Army Delta.

Frequent contributor to The Aviationist, Lance Riegle, of Dearborn Heights, Michigan, noticed unusual aviation activity during his recent trip to Virginia Beach, Virginia. He grabbed his Canon EOS 70D with a Tamron 70-300mm f/4-5.6 lens and started shooting photos. What he got is interesting.

“To be honest, I started taking photos before I knew what I was taking photos of. There had been a lot of other activity from the airshow [Ed’s note: the NAS Oceana Airshow had just ended that weekend] and I had my camera ready to go next to the balcony where we were staying. I heard jets, then I heard a helicopter, ran out the door, and there they were.”

Lance Riegle spent four days photographing the secretive 160th SOAR flying off the Dam Neck training area. (All photos: Lance Riegle)

Virginia Beach is close to the Dam Neck Annex of Oceana Naval Air Station. In December, 2016, journalist Sarah Pruitt reported on the use of the classified area by the most famous special operations unit in the world, the Navy’s elite SEAL Team 6. The unit, also known as “Development Group” or “DEVGRU” trains in this facility.

Pruitt wrote that, “Today, the top-secret headquarters of SEAL Team Six are located at the Dam Neck Annex of the Oceana Naval Air Station, just south of Virginia Beach.” Lance Riegle was only six miles north of the top-secret facility.

The general public knows DEVGRU from Operation Neptune’s Spear, the raid to capture Osama bin Laden in 2011 using highly-modified “Stealth Black Hawk” helicopters flown by the U.S. Army’s 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (160th SOAR), the famous “Night Stalkers”.

While the military won’t officially verify it, what Lance Riegle got photos of just north of Dam Neck was almost certainly a (classified) training exercise being conducted by a Naval Special Warfare Team (SEAL team), possibly DEVGRU operators, using highly modified helicopters only flown by the 160th SOAR. The aircraft in the photos are MH-6M Little Bird and MH-60M Blackhawk helicopters.




The Night Stalkers’ unusual helicopters are readily identifiable during the day. They are painted flat black instead of the more common olive green color and have almost no visible markings. The aircraft Lance Riegle photographed had temporary markings on the fuselage using tape, a common practice in a large training evolutions using numerous aircraft.

The Nightstalkers are the only unit in the Army using the MH-6M Little Bird, the helicopter you may remember landing on the roof of the Olympic Hotel in the book and movie “Blackhawk Down” when the secretive SFO-D (Special Forces Operational detachment- Delta) assaulted the building.

A pair of MH-6M Little Bird helicopters of the “Nightstalkers” flies toward the Navy SEAL facility at Dam Neck. Even at night only a single red light was visible on the aircraft. (Photo: Lance Riegle)

The U.S. Army’s 160th SOAR specializes in night flying at low altitude for clandestine insertions into denied areas. Aircraft flown by the Nightstalkers have an exotic communications and sensor suite on board accounting for the massive number of antennae and vision systems protruding from the helicopters. The MH-60M Blackhawks have a dazzling array of special secure radios, sensors and satellite communications on board. They include the AN/ARC-201D single channel ground and airborne radio system (SINCGARS), four onboard Raytheon AN/ARC-231 Skyfire radios, two of them equipped with satellite communications capability, two AN/ARC-220 high frequency radios, an MTX Blue Force Tracker to prevent accidental friendly fire engagements. The nose of the MH-60M also features the Raytheon AN/APQ-187 SilentKnight radar for terrain-following at low altitude at night and the Raytheon AN/ZSQ-2 EOSS electro-optical (EO) and infrared (FLIR) cameras for night vision. Nightstalker pilots are also the most proficient aviators in the world at dangerous low-altitude, night vision goggle flying. All these system antennae and sensors are visible in Riegle’s photos.

MH-60M Blackhawks return to the Navy SEAL facility at Dam Neck after a training sortie at sea.

“The first time I saw them was at night. I was surprised they were flying as close to the ground and to buildings as they were at night with all their lights off. The only light they had on was one small, blinking tail light.”

Training activities for these elite teams are common in the area, but being in the right place at the right time to get photos can be tricky, especially for a large training exercise like this one. Riegle observed the aviation activity for four days at multiple times throughout the day. The aircraft would fly in and out of two points, sometimes loaded with operators, sometimes returning empty. The aircraft originated north of Riegle’s location and then flew south to Dam Neck initially before heading out to sea. This mission profile suggests the aircraft and their load of special operators could have been conducting Visit, Board, Search and Seizure (VBSS) operation training. “At night, they stayed closer to shore, during the day they were further out,” Riegle noted.



Once Lance Riegle began noticing the high tempo of special operations activity in the area he kept his camera with him and managed to grab some photos of the rarely seen stealthy 41-foot CCA Mk1 high speed boats used by Special Boat Team 20 stationed at Dam Neck.

The unusual CCA Mk1 high speed boats of Special Boat Team 20 at Dam Neck.

In August 2017 journalist Joseph Trevithick reported at The War Zone that, “From what little we know about the 41-foot long craft, technically known as the CCA Mk. 1, it is low-observable design with a composite material hull and a pair of high performance engines that could operate with a low likelihood of detection even close to shore. It is reportedly small enough that U.S. Air Force C-17s can air drop it directly into a given body of water.”

A close look at a CCA Mk1 high speed boat.

Following a few days of managing to get some rare photos of these secretive aircraft, boats and special operations teams in training Riegle said, “It’s interesting that these guys do this every day around the world but nobody ever sees them including us Americans.” Thanks to Lance’s interesting photos, we get a rare glimpse at these exotic aircraft, boats and men in action.

All images: Lance Riegle.

Top image: A grainy close-up of an MH-60M Blackhawk of the U.S. Army’s 160th SOAR, the “Night Stalkers” flies just off the coast of Dam Neck. The numerous sensors, the night vision goggles on the helmets of operators and their unusual uniforms with knee pads can barely be seen in this enlargement. (Photo: Lance Riegle)

Questions Remain Surrounding Special Operations Blackhawk Crash in Iraq

Veteran Helicopter Pilot Killed in Crash Was in Ninth Combat Deployment.

Late Tuesday, August 21, 2018, U.S. military officials identified the Army helicopter pilot who died on Monday as a result of wounds received in a crash in Iraq on Sunday, August 19, 2018 during an undisclosed operation. Official news releases report three additional wounded U.S. personnel have been evacuated to treatment facilities.

Chief Warrant Officer 3 Taylor J. Galvin, 34, from Spokane, Washington, died Aug. 20, in Baghdad as a result of injuries sustained when his helicopter crashed in Sinjar, Ninevah Province, according to a Department of Defense news release.

CW3 Galvin was assigned to Delta Company, 1st Battalion, 160th SOAR (Special Operations Aviation Regiment) as an MH-60M Blackhawk helicopter pilot. He was flying in support of Operation Inherent Resolve. Galvin was originally from Phoenix, Arizona. He was 34 years old. Galvin was a combat veteran special operations pilot with nine deployments including two during Iraqi Freedom, three in Operation Enduring Freedom and four more during Operation Inherent Resolve. He was the recipient of the U.S. Army Air Medal (C device) and Air Medal (30LC) for heroism or meritorious achievement while flying in addition to numerous other awards.

A file photo of U.S. Army Chief Warrant Officer 3 Taylor J. Galvin, 34, of Spokane, Washington. Galvin died Monday from injuries received in the crash of his MH-60K Blackhawk special operations helicopter. (Photo: US Army)

In an August 20, 2018 article on Newsweek.com about the fatal crash, journalist James LaPorta reported that, “It is unclear why the MH-60 Blackhawk went down, but U.S. military sources with knowledge of the crash said the helicopter was returning to base after conducting a partnered small-scale raid on Islamic State militants in an undisclosed region as part of ongoing counterterrorism operations.” LaPorta went on to write, “Ten U.S. military personnel were onboard the aircraft being flown by U.S. Army pilots from the elite 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, known as the Night Stalkers.”

The region near Sinjar (Shingal), Iraq where the crash occurred had been active in supporting cross-border anti-ISIS operations into neighboring Syria for more than a month until U.S. troops were withdrawn from the area in the middle of July, 2018 according to a report by Wladimir van Wilgenburg published in the regional Kurdistan 24 online news source. This is also the region where Iraqi Air Force F-16s have conducted their first airstrikes against insurgents during cross-border strikes into Syria.

The crash was reported to have occurred at approximately 10:00 PM local time (2200 hrs, GMT+3). Sunset in the region on August 19, the date of the accident, occurred at 6:40 PM local time. Weather in the area was hot, 101 degrees Fahrenheit, with light winds and clear skies. Pentagon spokesman Colonel Robert Manning told reporters Monday that the crash was not caused by enemy fire.

Reports about the aircraft and the personnel on board may contradict official assertions that the U.S. role in the region is predominantly in an advisory capacity. The 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, the “Night Stalkers”, is a highly-specialized combat aviation unit headquartered at Ft. Campbell, Kentucky that supports elite U.S. and coalition combat units like Army Special Forces, Naval Special Warfare (SEALs) and other special operations units.

This latest crash brings the total of serious U.S. military aircraft accidents this year to at least 14.

The 160th SOAR, the “Night Stalkers”, are most famous for the raid to capture Osama bin Laden, Operation Neptune’s Spear, on May 1, 2011. During that raid, the unit flew a classified, low-observable variant of the Blackhawk helicopter that has since been popularly referred to in speculation as the “MH-X Stealth Black Hawk” or “Silent Hawk”. Images of part of the secret helicopter were seen around the world when one of them crashed inside Bin Laden’s compound during the raid, leaving the tail section visible. Books and media accounts suggest only two of the aircraft were ever produced.

In 2015, a MH-60M Black Hawk crashed on the deck of a U.S. Navy ship near Okinawa, Japan, injuring seven; more recently, in August 2017, a 160th SOAR’s MH-60 crashed off Yemen killing one soldier.

Top image credit: U.S. Army

Russian Il-76 “Candid” Modified To Support Special Operations Conducts Flight Test Over The Black Sea

A special version of the Il-76MD-90A (Il-476) airlifter, developed for special forces support was tracked online during flight test recently.

A really interesting aircraft was spotted conducting flight testing over the Black Sea on Sept. 26, 2017: the Il-76MD-90A “78650”, the first “Candid” modified to carry out special operations.

According to the Russian media outlet “Izvestia” the example “78650” is a flying testbed for a heavily modified Il-76MD-90A variant equipped with “unique on-board radio-electronic systems that would allow the aircraft to stealthily deliver paratroopers and special forces behind the enemy lines, remaining invisible and invulnerable to the enemy.

How the aircraft can evade radars and remain invisible is unclear, anyway, the experimental Candid can be distinguished from the baseline IL-76MD-90A by the presence of an opto-electronic station mounted on the lower nose section of the aircraft and for the “President-C” system used designed to protect aircraft from MANPADS (Man-Portable Air Defense Systems) and IR (heat-seeking) missiles by laser and radiofrequency/electronic jamming of the missile guidance.

The aircraft is also equipped with advanced avionics, modernized communication suite and flight navigation system as well as a new collision warning system for low-level flying.

The example “78650,” used to test the new Special OPS variant of the Candid strategic cargo, is the same aircraft involved in the flight-test and certification program for the Il-76MD-90A airlifter (first flight on Sept. 22, 2012). According to “Izvestia,” the aircraft returned to the Aviastar manufacturing facility in Ulyanovsk, where new equipment was installed, in 2014.

The Il-76MD-90A “78650” (credit: https://sdelanounas.ru/)

With the modified Il-76, Moscow aims to field all-weather, day and night aircraft capable to airdrop special forces or cargo well inside the enemy territory or to land on unprepared airstrips behind the enemy lines. More or less what the U.S. special operations aircraft (such as the MC-130s or the C-17 Globemaster IIIs) have been doing for some decades.

Needless to say we don’t know what type of sensor the Il-76 “78650” was testing over the Black Sea on Sept. 26; nevertheless, it is at least interesting that the activity of this highly modified aircraft filled with equipment required to undertake clandestine missions can be tracked online (by means of the usual Mode-S/ADS-B transponder) using Flightradar24.com.

Top image created by editing a Flightradar24 screenshot with a chart published by Izvestia.

Flightradar24 exposes the presence of U.S. and allied ISR planes operating over Daesh stronghold in Iraq

Several spyplanes and drones keep an eye on Mosul, ISIS headquarters in northern Iraq.

As our readers know, we’ve been reporting about U.S. and allied planes that can be tracked online during war missions since at least 2011 when, during the opening stages of the Libya Air War, some of the combat planes involved in the air campaign forgot/failed to switch off their mode-S or ADS-B transponder, and were clearly trackable on FR.24 or PF.net.

Five years later, little has changed and transponders remain turned on during real operations making the aircraft clearly visible to anyone with a browser and an Internet connection, thus breaking OPSEC and exposing aerial refueling tracks or clandestine operations, like those being flown on a daily basis in North Africa, Afghanistan, or Iraq.

For instance, last night as many as three Beech 300 Super King Air aircraft could be tracked while they circled over Mosul while hunting for Isis leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi during ISR (Intelligence Surveillance Reconnaissance) missions.

N166BA

These days, along with the tankers, several quasi-civilian U.S. Army-operated aircraft, including the Pilatus PC-12/45 N56EZ, the Super King Air 300 N80BZ and N166BA and several MC-12W Liberty (the military variant of the B350 King Air).

Like the one, registered N6351V that crash landed near Erbil, Iraq on Mar. 5. In that case, the mishap exposed the fact that the Liberty (just like many other special mission aircraft operating in the same area) sported a non-standard white color scheme  to disguise itself as a light transport plane.

N6351V

But in spite of its general aviation appearance the aircraft was actually an MC-12W EMARSS (Enhanced Medium Altitude Reconnaissance and Surveillance System) variant used to perform ELINT (Electronic Intelligence), COMINT (Communication Intelligence), direction finding as well as Full Motion Video broadcasting to the tactical commanders on the ground, for day and night target detection, location, classification and tracking, as well as counter-IED operations.

All these modified aircraft are equipped with EO/IR (electro-optic/infra-red) sensors, aerial precision geolocation system, line-of-sight tactical and beyond line-of-sight communications suites, Distributed Common Ground System-Army (DCGS-A) workstations, and a self-protection suite: much more than a normal general aviation plane….

Beech 300 Super King Air

Another frequent visitors of the skies over Iraq is also a Bombardier Global 6000. According to some ADS-B experts it may be a RAF Sentinel R1, a quite advanced ISR platform that has been extensively used in Libya, Afghanistan and Iraq, or an E-11A, an advanced ultra long-range business jet that has been modified by the U.S. Air Force to accommodate Battlefield Airborne Communications Node (BACN) payload.

Whatever it is, needless to say, it can be tracked online on Flightradar24.com.

H/T to @CivilMilAir, Guglielmo Guglielmi, Guido Olimpio, Avi Scharf and Greg Anderson for contributing to this post. Top image credit: FR24.com via Greg Anderson. Image credit: Rudaw.

 

Chilling Video of the AK-47 Attack on a Paris restaurant highlights some tips to survive an Active Shooter Scenario

U.S. Navy SEALs and Special Operation Forces have some advice for surviving an active shooter scenario.

On Friday Nov. 13, Paris and its northern suburb Saint-Denis, France, were hit by a series of terrorist attacks which killed 129 and injured 352 people.

The attack consisted of suicide bombs and mass shootings like the one you can see in the following chilling footage.

The video shows a sustained attack on a restaurant in the 11th district by means of AK-47: according to the Daily Mail, that obtained the recordings of three CCTV cameras inside the pizzeria, at least 30 bullets came into the premises, where terrified diners immediately ran for cover behind counters and under tables.

None of them died during the attack, even though, as you can clearly see in the clip a young woman was quite close to it: she was saved by the assault rifle that either misfired or ran out of ammunition.

Anyway, the footage speaks for itself and, if you look for more details, the Daily Mail has a much accurate description of the scene.

Watch the video then continue reading below.

When I saw the clip for the very first time, it immediately thought of an interesting article by Brandon Webb, a former Navy SEAL, published by SOFREP in the aftermath of the Colorado shooting in Aurora, back in July 2012.

Among the tips to survive in case of attack by a gunman Webb shared with the “average citizen” I’ve picked those that probably apply to most scenarios (you can read them all here). As you will see, some of them have probably contributed to save the life of the diners in the Paris restaurant.

Don’t Make Yourself an Easy Target

According to the former Special Operator, at public events, cinemas or even at the restaurant (as in the Paris massacre…) you should always opt for seats that give you good and east vantage points and quick exit points. “It’s the reason I still combat park (back in to a space) and sit with my back to the wall when I’m eating,” Webb pointed out.

Active Shooter Scenario Advice

“Take cover and not concealment.  Concealment hides, cover hides AND protects.  It’s the difference between hiding behind a movie seat or a concrete wall.” Quite obvious, but you may not think to this when bullets are flying above your head. Webb says that it is better to keep the eyes wide open and to act instead of waiting for first responders: they may arrive too late.  Furthermore, “a moving target is extremely hard to hit, even for the well-trained shooter.”

Alter Your Lifestyle, and it May Save Your Life

This is quite obvious. You should avoid large crowds that make rewarding targets for all kind of terrorists. In this case the target was a soft-one, almost randomly selected but, generally speaking, you should take some basic precautions. A few more tips to survive a terrorist attack are included in this more recent story written by former Navy SEAL and JSOC operator Clinton Emerson for SOFREP.

Top image credit: screenshot from the Daily Mail video