U.S. Special Operations troops launched an unsuccessful operation earlier this year to rescue captured American journalist James Foley and other captives from the Islamic State militant group in eastern Syria, The Washington Post just reported. The mission’s disclosure sheds a spotlight on the unpredictable nature of Special Operations, but also highlights the extreme lengths and advanced technology U.S. commandos will use in some of the military’s most dangerous missions.
The airborne raid into Syria was launched using modified Black Hawk helicopters, The Post reported. They were with the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, an elite group of aviators that frequently operates with the Army’s Delta Force, Navy SEALs and other U.S. commandos in hair-raising missions across the world.
The aviation regiment operates at least three kinds of modified Black Hawks, according to U.S. Special Operations Command. The MH-60K used by the unit is based on the conventional UH-60 Black Hawk, but has been upgraded to allow aerial refueling, provide better navigation and include an undisclosed “advanced suite of aircraft survivability equipment,” SOCOM officials said.
The 160th SOAR also operates the MH-60L Black Hawk model, which includes many of the same modifications as the “K” model, but not all. SOCOM provides few additional details about the differences.
Even more advanced is another version of the MH-60L Black Hawk. Known as the Direct Action Penetrator or Defensive Armed Penetrator, it takes the basic MH-60L model, but integrates a variety of heavy weapons. It’s designed to work with precision-guided munitions in the area, and is capable of direct-action raids or troop assault operations, SOCOM says. If used in a direct-action role, the “DAP” helicopter would not transport troops, but be used as a gunship overhead and help coordinate the mission.
Here’s a 2008 video of the MH-60L “DAP” in action:
U.S. officials did not immediately say which version of the Black Hawk was used in the Syria mission. All three modified Black Hawks have a normal cruising speed of nearly 140 mph, with a top-end speed of over 200 mph. Regardless, the mission required care: the helicopters are believed to have come under heavy fire when landing, and at least one U.S. soldier was wounded, according to The Post’s report.
SOCOM also has used even more highly specialized Black Hawks in the past. For example, in the May 2, 2011, Special Operations raid into Pakistan that killed al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, special radar-avoiding models of the MH-60 were said to be used to ensure that the Navy SEALs and Special Operations aviators on board would not be detected by the Pakistani military before they launched their assault.
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