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Crashed Helicopter Sparks Concern Over Stealth Secrets 484

Posted by Soulskill
from the get-to-da-meme dept.
Hugh Pickens writes "The crash of a helicopter involved in the raid on Osama bin Laden's Pakistani hideout has prompted intense speculation about whether the aircraft was specially modified to fly stealthily — and whether its remains could offer hostile governments clues to sensitive US military technology. Remnants of the helicopter, including a nearly intact piece of its tail, suggested that the aircraft involved in the raid wasn't the typical Black Hawk flown by special-operations forces. Aviation experts who scrutinized photos of the scene say the tail had unusual features that suggested the helicopter had been extensively modified to fly quietly, while appearing less visible to radar. 'The odds are fair — based on my knowledge of the subject area — the vast majority of the special MH-60s aircraft were purpose-built to make those aircraft as stealthy as they could possibly be,' says aviation expert Jay Miller, adding that the remnants of the aircraft suggested extensive use of nonmetallic composite parts, which reflect less radar energy. Experts also say the tail rotor's design suggested an effort to reduce the 'acoustic signature' (video) of the helicopters to make them fly more quietly."
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Crashed Helicopter Sparks Concern Over Stealth Secrets

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  • Yes it was modifed (Score:5, Interesting)

    by LWATCDR (28044) on Friday May 06, 2011 @11:47AM (#36048296) Homepage Journal

    Or a new design. That tail rotor is not from any know US or even NATO Helicopter. How much was compromised? Maybe some materials It will depend on if Pakistan gives it back or not. They will probably pass some parts onto China since they are working with them on new aircraft. Or we will sell them some more F16s cheap if they give back to US.

    • by goombah99 (560566) on Friday May 06, 2011 @11:58AM (#36048442)

      According the NYtimes the reason it crashed was not mechanical failure but lack of lift. two reasons were given 1) thin air 2) the walls of the compound created a vortex. So apparently just some modestly walls to guide air will reduce the lift enough to crash this thing. I wonder how it is supposed to land between buildings? I wonder if perhaps the noise reduction and stealth features came at a price of reduced performance.

      • by Anonymous Coward on Friday May 06, 2011 @12:09PM (#36048570)

        According the NYtimes the reason it crashed was not mechanical failure but lack of lift.

        According to Aviation Week the reason it crashed was the tail rotor struck the top of the compound wall during the landing attempt, breaking the tail rotor off, which resulted in a hard landing. That's the reason the tail section was on the opposite side of the wall from the rest of the helicopter, and why it didn't get destroyed when the Seal team blew up the helicopter.

  • by fridaynightsmoke (1589903) on Friday May 06, 2011 @11:48AM (#36048312) Homepage

    The fact that civilian aviation experts were able to look at the pictures and say "gee, that's a so-and-so modification to reduce noise" suggests to me that this is hardly top-secret technology. Also, the fact that special forces have relatively stealthy helicopters is hardly surprising.

    What next; controversy about a crashed police car 'revealing' secret tuning and suspension modifications?

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Zeek40 (1017978)
      If we only found damaged parts of that police car, and it was used to capture or kill one of the FBI's most wanted, and none of those parts were found in any other known production vehicle, then yes, there would be controversy over what the vehicle was.
      • by joocemann (1273720) on Friday May 06, 2011 @12:06PM (#36048546)

        No way... the truth I there is tons of technology that our military uses that only those with a need to know are usually aware of.

        We spend 1.8 trillion on the military industrial complex per year from taxes, and that isn't including DoD budgets or pentagon budgets. Damn straight we're gonna have crazy technology that people aren't aware of. Most civilians have no idea what we even amount to in this field, and most soldiers won't even see or hear about the tech they don't directly work with.

        We pay for it, that's for sure.

      • by cpu6502 (1960974)

        I'm experiencing deja vu.

        I remember this same discussion back in 1991, when a stealth fighter crashed in Iraq, and "experts" were worried that the crash parts would be stolen and help enemies build their own stealth fighter. So far I've not seen any great harm caused. Remember: These pundits are paid to talk, even if it's just "the sky is falling" nonsense and/or hand-wringing like an old maid.

        • by Mr.Intel (165870) <mrintel173NO@SPAMyahoo.com> on Friday May 06, 2011 @12:41PM (#36048972) Homepage Journal

          I'm experiencing deja vu.

          I remember this same discussion back in 1991, when a stealth fighter crashed in Iraq, and "experts" were worried that the crash parts would be stolen and help enemies build their own stealth fighter. So far I've not seen any great harm caused. Remember: These pundits are paid to talk, even if it's just "the sky is falling" nonsense and/or hand-wringing like an old maid.

          You mean 1999 during the Kosovo war? The only operational (combat) loss of an F-117 (S/N 82-0806) was in Yugoslavia.

          They were right to be worried since China has developed a stealth fighter [wikipedia.org] from the technology stolen from that very plane.

          Balkan military officials told the Associated Press that China and Russia may have adopted some stealth technology from a Lockheed F-117 Nighthawk, which was shot down by the Serbian military in 1999 during the Kosovo war.

          source: http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5iE3jMTTaEhm5I8l63W9OzWiji0-Q?docId=e8f4fe6f3cc042d8af123a99e96b2a96 [google.com]

          • They were right to be worried since China has developed a stealth fighter [wikipedia.org] from the technology stolen from that very plane.

            No, the F-117 and the Chinese jet have fundamentally different designs.

            What you probably mean is that China gained some knowledge of stealth coatings from the F-117 crash (what is in them, perhaps how they are applied... But certainly not how to manufacture them)

            But the paint is only a small part of "stealth".

        • by Wyatt Earp (1029)

          The only stealth fighters that crashed were...

          S/N 79-0785 was lost on 20 April 1982 during takeoff on its maiden flight in California, recovered.
          S/N 80-0792 was lost on 11 July 1986 in California, recovered
          S/N 85-0815 was lost on 14 October 1987 in Nevada, recovered
          S/N 82-0801 was lost on 4 August 1992 in New Mexico, recovered
          S/N 86-0822 was lost on 10 May 1995 in New Mexico, recovered
          S/N 81-0793 was lost on 14 September 1997 in Maryland during air show, recovered
          S/N 82-0806 was lost on 27 March 1999 in Ser

    • by Americano (920576)

      Sun Tzu understood why this was a concern: "Be extremely subtle even to the point of formlessness. Be extremely mysterious even to the point of soundlessness. Thereby you can be the director of the opponent's fate."

      If you know what materials are in use, and what technologies are implemented by your opponent, then you're no longer looking for the proverbial needle in a haystack. You know exactly what the other guy is using, and can then build systems specifically designed & tuned to hinder/counter/neut

    • Who mod this guy as "interesting"?

      Noise reduction in this case is only part of the intriguing things in this helicopter. Never came across something that is probably something completely new and never wanted to know more about it?
      • Who mod this guy as "interesting"? Noise reduction in this case is only part of the intriguing things in this helicopter. Never came across something that is probably something completely new and never wanted to know more about it?

        I'm not saying that it isn't interesting or intriguing (because it is); I'm saying it's not an "OMG National Security" disaster. Because it probably isn't.

    • by Sir_Sri (199544) on Friday May 06, 2011 @12:21PM (#36048738)

      Knowing that composites reduce radar signatures is well known in the civilian world. What specific composite works well against whatever brand of radar the pakistani's use is a whole other matter.

      Everyone knew the F117 was a stealth fighter bomber, it had a shape, coating materials etc for that purpose. 10 years after it was built the russians still very quickly scooped up all the pieces they could find when one crashed in yugoslavia.

      There's a big difference between knowing in general things that make something stealthy, it's quite another to have specific implementation you can copy/steal/learn from. In the same way that we all know nuclear bombs exist, and the basic principles of operation, but actually building a 5 Megaton bomb is a somewhat different problem.

      The concern here is both what you can see externally, and then any of the electronics hardware on the inside that you can't see. When that EP3 spying on China in 2001 was forced to land on Hainan the important part wasn't the aircraft, it was the NSA operating system and all of the electronic stuff that we know sort of in general was there, but not how it worked.

      The only thing to me is that Pakistan is officially a US ally in this, so for them to turn over the remains of the aircraft to anyone else would be... problematic (especially since it's a free market and who has more money to spend than the US?). Random bits that went flying around the neighbourhood, sure, they're gone. But any of the parts big enough to need a vehicle to move I'd guess the US will be wanting back.

      • by mikael_j (106439)

        The only thing to me is that Pakistan is officially a US ally in this, so for them to turn over the remains of the aircraft to anyone else would be... problematic (especially since it's a free market and who has more money to spend than the US?). Random bits that went flying around the neighbourhood, sure, they're gone. But any of the parts big enough to need a vehicle to move I'd guess the US will be wanting back.

        From what I've come to understand the main concern isn't that Pakistan as a country would sell this off to China or Russia but rather that less trustworthy elements in the Pakistani military/government (essentially the same thing most of the time) would either use this tech themselves (they are after all a nuclear power even if a lot of people tend to think of them as little more than "towelheads") or have bits of it "disappear" only to have it turn up in Russia or China at about the same time as said offic

    • by jd2112 (1535857)
      If this were secret technology a second special ops team would have been dispatched to retrieve or destroy the helecopter the moment that it crashed.
  • Only now it appeared on Slashdot? And below a picture of the possible appearance of the helicopter:
    http://cencio4.wordpress.com/2011/05/05/stealth-black-hawk-down-revised-sketch/ [wordpress.com]
  • Cutting edge (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Dan East (318230) on Friday May 06, 2011 @11:50AM (#36048332) Homepage Journal

    The key factor is that this mission was so important - even the President was personally involved in its planned - that the very best, most advanced technology available would have been employed. If there are secret helicopters and eavesdropping equipment and spy gadgets, then they would have been employed for this. I think the design (5 blade), material and aerodynamic shape of the tail rotors would be the biggest thing up for grabs after this incident. It also makes me wonder if China, Russia, etc, have their act together enough to quickly place buyers in Pakistan to purchase whatever photos, or even actual pieces of the wreckage, they can. One thing is for sure, China and Russia are very good at reverse engineering.

    • Re:Cutting edge (Score:4, Interesting)

      by dcherryholmes (1322535) on Friday May 06, 2011 @12:38PM (#36048934)

      I'm not expert in this stuff, but I did do some time on submarines and participated in refueling overhauls and decommissions. When the sub is in drydock the screw is kept covered with a tarp at all times, lest somebody just see the shape of it and glean anti-cavitation tech. So it is plausible to me that just seeing the shape of one of the rotors would be significant.

    • Re:Cutting edge (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Shivetya (243324) on Friday May 06, 2011 @12:39PM (#36048950) Homepage Journal

      The real achievement wasn't the helicopters, it was flying from their station in Afghanistan without being picked up by Pakistan's military. A lot of that had to do with know where the coverage was and the terrain combined with great flying and planning. Never underestimate the skill of those flying these machines. Flying helicopters in the dark at the levels and speeds they were moving isn't for the feint at heart.

      The explosives were most likely done to break up certain shapes and destroy electronics. I doubt the materials themselves used to skin the helicopter are as important as compared to the shape of the various components of the copter.

      • by tgd (2822) on Friday May 06, 2011 @01:03PM (#36049242)

        Pakistan's military didn't notice Bin Laden living in his giant compound a quarter mile from their elite military training school.

        Somehow I think we could've flown a bunch of bi-planes trailing a banner with "We're coming for you Bin Laden" in giant letters, with wing walkers and dropping tootsie rolls onto the onlooking public and the military still wouldn't have noticed.

    • It's not that far-fetched to wonder if maybe we didn't steal, buy or reverse engineer some of that technology from the Russians, helicopters are in their DNA after all, and the Black Hawks are made by a company named Sikorsky. Stealth is usually a matter of integration of simpler techniques into a system, what I've seen isn't that much different than RAH-66 Comanche [wikipedia.org]. It's not uncommon for a failed project to product technologies used to upgrade existing end-items.

  • Airwolf.

    Seriously, though, what kind of "stealth" is this? It showed right up in the picture.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    That we have a stealth helicopter or that its 'secrets' might be out there now?

    Concerns are irrelevant either way. We worked on a stealth helicopter design for a while (RAH-66 [wikipedia.org]) which failed to materialize, but it makes sense lessons learned from the project could be put to use. In regards to people knowing about it (or having access to its parts), well, if you use it in combat you might lose one, and then it's out there for everyone to see.
    • by jgtg32a (1173373)
      I didn't realize we scrapped the Comanche. Was kinda wondering why I never saw it on the news.
  • It must have been a Stealth Blackhawk in BETA - never seen before and bound to crash at least once.

    All kidding aside, it is quite unfortunate that it's debut was the result of a crash in a country that has been known to export nifty knowledge and new technology they acquire (i.e. A.Q Kahn and nuclear weapons).
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday May 06, 2011 @11:55AM (#36048400)

    Helicopters are the opposite of stealth.

    Naval Aviator: "You know how a helicopter flies?"
    me: "uhh.. the main rotor, lift, drag, etc?"
    Naval Aviator: "Wrong. They make so much goddamn noise the Earth gets away from them"

  • by hey (83763)

    What about that guy who tweeted that the copters were shaking the windows?
    http://eu.techcrunch.com/2011/05/02/heres-the-guy-who-unwittingly-live-tweeted-the-raid-on-bin-laden/ [techcrunch.com]

    • According to several sources were four helicopters, two of these Chinooks. Perhaps it was these two that it shook the windows
      • by rayd75 (258138)

        According to several sources were four helicopters, two of these Chinooks. Perhaps it was these two that it shook the windows

        Exactly... It would seem likely that Chinooks were sent in only after a delay and after the Pakistani authorities knew something was amiss. By that time, the raw power and performance of the Chinooks would be far more desirable than stealth. The stealth-modified helicopters almost certainly perform more poorly than unmodified versions of the same aircraft.

        • Exactly... It would seem likely that Chinooks were sent in only after a delay and after the Pakistani authorities knew something was amiss.

          I've been wondering whether the raid was accompanied by a preemptory "stand down (or else)" order to the Pakistanis.

        • I agree. They just needed the element of surprise until the moment of the first attack (and for that stealth helicopters), after that then no longer had to be sneaky.
          Then after that they could use Chinooks to have more cargo capacity, could eventually have to bring more stuff than the soldiers of the attack and may have had to evacuate the soldiers if one of the attack helicopters was lost, as happened.

          And the author from the blog where I found the image of what could be the "stealth hawk" have a interes
          • Re:tweets (Score:4, Insightful)

            by Daniel Phillips (238627) on Friday May 06, 2011 @01:21PM (#36049464)

            the author from the blog where I found the image of what could be the "stealth hawk" have a interesting theory: To ensure they got to the house without being noticed by the Pakistanis, it is possible that the Chinnoks were also stealth versions.

            Standing off some distance and being more easily detected would also have been something of a diversion.

  • It seemed a little odd that when a helicopter broke down a quarter mile away from a supposedly allied military base, the U.S. military would blast it to pieces rather than just asking Pakistan to keep an eye on it till it could be picked up. For a random helicopter, scuttling it in nominally friendly territory is wasteful and over-the-top, but for a super secret stealth helicopter, it's quite prudent.

    • by DarkOx (621550)

      Well Osama was found in a populated city filled with Pakistani Military and Spy agency personnel and by all indications he had been there along time. That leaves a few possibilities :

      1. The Pakistanis are completely incompetent at security, and therefore could not be trusted to protect our bird.
      2. The Pakistani Government knew where Osama was and was protecting him from us, they are therefore not actually or allies but an enemy who has been playing us, and therefore could not be trusted to protect our bird

      • by ptbarnett (159784)

        That leaves a few possibilities :

        You overlooked a fourth alternative: The US government has known exactly where Osama was for some time, and chose instead to watch the building to see who came and went. Of course, that says nothing about where the Pakistani government knew.

        So, why did they go in last weekend? A UK paper has speculated it was because enough information was in the Guantanamo Bay files distributed by WikiLeaks to tip off Osama that his hideout had been compromised. They had to act before Osama disappeared again.

  • by bradgoodman (964302) on Friday May 06, 2011 @12:13PM (#36048640) Homepage
    Our good friends and allies, the Pakistanis, are just going to give us back the helicopter, and protect it's secrets from our enemies... right?
    • "and protect it is secrets" What does that even mean?

    • by Xelios (822510)
      Look at it from their perspective, 'good friends and allies' don't launch covert military operations into your country without at least informing you first. Maybe the US had good reasons not to, but it's not very fair to pull something like this then turn around and point fingers when the operation doesn't go quite as planned.
  • by catmistake (814204) on Friday May 06, 2011 @12:23PM (#36048760) Journal
    How did they fit 24 commandos, 4 pilots, a dog, a body, and retrieved materials into the remaining stealth Blackhawk? Did the military developed stealth midget commandos for this mission?
    • Re:the bigger puzzle (Score:4, Informative)

      by SydShamino (547793) on Friday May 06, 2011 @12:29PM (#36048848)

      Two Chinook helicopters followed the two stealth helicopters. This was intended so that the SEALs could make a ground escape if necessary (to be picked up nearby).

      One or both of those likely picked up the other SEALs.

      • Two Chinook helicopters followed the two stealth helicopters. This was intended so that the SEALs could make a ground escape if necessary (to be picked up nearby).

        One or both of those likely picked up the other SEALs.

        Thanks. hmm... then why didn't the Pakistanis shoot down the Chinooks? Got a link?

        • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

          by Anonymous Coward

          The Pakistanis might be fair weather allies *cough*, but they're not that stupid.

        • by Dr. Spork (142693)
          If we flew over hundreds of miles of Pakistani airspace with freaking Chinooks, why did we bother with stealth helicopters in the first place? Was it just to reduce the noise of inserting the commandos? Chinooks are possibly the least stealthy and most obvious aircraft that the Navy operates. SAM technology from the 50's could take them down. If we were using Chinooks, it's 100% clear that we had the full cooperation of Pakistani air defenses.
          • Was it just to reduce the noise of inserting the commandos?

            Yes.

            My impression is that once the cat is out of the bag (after the assault team is inserted), there's not as much worry about telling the host country that those Chinooks are not actually on a training flight, but are going to land and extract a team.

            Most of the secrecy was probably aimed at not letting OBL get away, either by directly alerting him, or by alerting any spies that he had placed in the local command structure.

            (Was it hundreds
    • by H0p313ss (811249)

      How did they fit 24 commandos, 4 pilots, a dog, a body, and retrieved materials into the remaining stealth Blackhawk? Did the military developed stealth midget commandos for this mission?

      See comment 36048786 [slashdot.org]

    • by raehl (609729) <raehl311@y a h oo.com> on Friday May 06, 2011 @12:35PM (#36048916) Homepage

      Two stealth helicopters got them in; they had two helicopters in reserve to get them out.

  • by smellsofbikes (890263) on Friday May 06, 2011 @12:27PM (#36048806) Journal

    The first time I heard about this whole mission, I thought, whoah, American helicopters managed to fly 150 km into Pakistan without being noticed? Pakistan isn't a slouch when it comes to military equipment: they've fought several wars with India, and are used to trying to track some of the finest military hardware in the world. Yet two helicopters flew in, invisibly. It sounds like they were supported by two Chinooks, that came in a bit later, and those *were* seen by the Pakistani air defense, but the first group in weren't seen. A lot of other countries are going to want to figure out how we did this.

    There have been a lot of US projects in making low-observable helicopters, from the modified Hughes OH6 Loach [wikipedia.org] used to surreptitiously place wiretaps on lines during Vietnam, that also used increased numbers of blades, and the cancelled RAH-66 Comanche [wikipedia.org], that was supposed to be quiet and have a vastly reduced radar signature. The ones used Monday are probably Blackhawks modified based on the stuff learned from the Comanche, but they could be completely new aircraft: the descriptions of the amount of personnel and material taken in are at the very edge of what two stock Blackhawks could carry, and adding lots of stealth technology adds a *lot* of weight.

    Among other interesting things I've read and observed: the stock Blackhawk is manufactured with sheets of aluminum riveted together along the edges, like most planes. The pictures show rivetless construction, and in one picture it looks like there's a long weld seam that appears to have been done by hand rather than machine, making me think there are a very small number of prototypes of this. I also saw a link somewhere, that I can't find now, to a press release by a company who was adding small servos into the collector linkages that added continuous slight variance to the blade angle, to minimize noise by distributing it across different frequencies, which seems pretty cool. I've even seen a few claims that the whole aircraft was covered in material that could emit low levels of light, to blend it visually against a lighted sky (a technique used back in WWII by putting headlights on the leading edges of aircraft wings so that they could dive-bomb submarines without being seen until it was too late for the sub to dive [tripod.com]. This was distinct from the british Leigh lights, that were used in after-dark attacks along with radar.)

    I'm betting a whole lot of people are bidding on the wreckage that was recovered -- which is, itself, surprising, at least to me, because it sounds like the commandoes were able to completely destroy the whole main fuselage, leaving just the tail. Under the hurried circumstances that's pretty surprising. (I wouldn't be surprised to find out they actually hooked it to one of the Chinooks and dragged it out along with them.)

  • Since this guy and his friends could hear the whole thing from several kilometers away, I doubt it was stealth at all... If it was, it sucked.

    http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20110501/23343014105/interesting-world-man-unwittingly-live-tweets-raid-that-killed-osama-bin-laden.shtml
  • by NimbleSquirrel (587564) on Friday May 06, 2011 @12:38PM (#36048942)
    I wonder if the world would have heard of this event if that helicopter hadn't have crashed. When that helicopter crashed and left a section of somewhat identifiable wreckage, the US lost capability for plausible denial. They had to tell the world.

    I also have to wonder if, given the number of helicopters (two modified Black Hawks and two Chinooks), the original mission was just a capture mission. With this kind of carrying capacity, they could have removed everyone in the compound that wasn't killed in the initial raid. They would have landed the SEAL team first with the stealth Black Hawks, pulled out the Black Hawks and then followed that up a while later with a Chinook or two to pull out captives and the SEAL team. With no-one alive in the compound, the US would have had some degree of plausible deniability. On top of that, they'd have a large number of presumably senior al-Quaeda members to interrogate.

    Instead, the crashed helicopter would have taken out a large chunk of the LZ (leaving no landing space for a Chinook), it would have taken up crew to dispose of the wreckage and tend to any wounded from the crash. Combine this with an already limited timeframe and being stuck with only one aircraft to remove the SEAL team and Bin Laden, and this may have suddenly become a kill mission.
  • Wasn't the guy live blogging [yahoo.com] it on Twitter saying that "The noise alarmed him"? Not sure the "stealthy" part worked out so well.

    • Think that a normal helicopter makes enougth noise to you locate then miles away. But when you can hear the "stealth" version, he is already above you.
  • According to the tweets about the incident, as it happened, if we've got a stealthy, quiet super-secret high-tech helicopter here, then I think we might have overpaid for it. Check out the article, and then read the tweets: http://www.cnn.com/2011/TECH/social.media/05/02/osama.twitter.reports/index.html?hpt=Sbin [cnn.com]
  • by hduff (570443) <hoytduff AT gmail DOT com> on Friday May 06, 2011 @02:39PM (#36050482) Homepage Journal

    Any kind of mechanical device, out out in the real world, will eventually make it into the hands of the "enemy".
    There have always been technology transfers via this mechanism.
    If it was so damn important, it shoud never have been put into the field.

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