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Lead From The Front & The Sky

May 3, 2011

News from the Front

The Navy SEALs take great pride in getting there first and laying the groundwork for our attack forces. Now they have help from stealthy UAVs to give them a look ahead before committing the Team. This is a great American war story starring the world’s best fighting men and machines.

The Beast Above Observes – Unseen and Unheard

The RQ-170 Sentinel, developed by Lockheed’s Skunk Works, first appeared in 2009 in the skies over Kandahar, Afghanistan.

“One of the best unkept secrets in Kandahar Airbase is that ” The Beast of Kandahar” is regularly seen flying over and around the skies of Afghanistan… There are many variants that have borne this moniker, but the latest is the RQ 170 Sentinel. Taking pictures of the flightline is strictly verboten but obviously it happens all too frequently. ” Graphic and quote from US Navy Jeep Blog.

This just in from the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International

Sentinel UAV spied on bin Laden prior to successful mission

By: Brett Davis, May 2, 2011 4:25 PM

A Lockheed Martin RQ-170 Sentinel stealth unmanned aerial system spied on Osama bin Laden the night before the special operations unit raid that successfully killed bin Laden at his mansion compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, according to an initial report by the National Journal.

The U.S. Air Force has never released a photograph of the Sentinel, developed by Lockheed Martin’s Skunk Works, but it does acknowledge its existence, earning it the nickname the “Beast of Kandahar,” after the airfield it operates out of in Afghanistan.

The fatal attack was made by U.S. soldiers operating through Joint Special Operations Command, which is comprised of special forces from multiple U.S. military organizations. The Sentinel’s stealth nighttime spy mission was in conjunction with JSOC ground spotters, according to the National Journal.

A senior intelligence official, speaking 2 May at the Pentagon, said there were “multiple sources of intelligence, you know, that led us to where we are today with respect to this compound.” Aside from information from detainees, “we had other sources — I can’t describe those — that helped with the final intelligence picture,” he said.

Though its capabilities have never been formally outlined, the mission suggests the Sentinel is an intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance aircraft, whose multiple secretive missions might have consistently been related to bin Laden. The RQ UAV designation indicates that the system did not carry any weapons. The stealth body of the aircraft lead experts to speculate that the system was being used either over Iran or Pakistan, since the Afghanistan Taliban, according to a 2009 AFP news agency report, does not use radar systems.

Initial reports of bin Laden’s death speculated that bin Laden might have been killed through an armed Predator UAS strike. Though the aircraft didn’t ultimately take part in Sunday’s mission, Predator was initially sent to Afghanistan during a 60-day trial mission in 2000 dubbed “Afghan Eyes,” in anticipation that the unmanned system had the potential to target bin Laden with cruise missiles.

You can bet that if the manned mission had gone wrong, Predators and cruise missiles would have finished off UBL

In a related and very hush-hush story, Ty Rogoway, a sharp-eyed aviation enthusiast based in Portland, Ore.  was first to break this story.

Top Secret Stealth Helicopter Used in Bin Laden Raid

Secret Stealth Helicopter

Ty an aviation photographer blogs at and was first to uncover…

Today we have seen new pictures that confirm my #1 theory of what that tail section and rotor blades belong to stating “First- What helicopter really crashed on extraction site yesterday? Was it ours? Is it a new type with special capabilities such as low observable technology that was procured for precisely these types of missions?” This has now proven to be correct. See  more photos and links at Ty’s blog…

Tommy, Can You See Me? Can You Hear Me?

Stealthy Boeing Sikorsky, RAH-66 Comanche

Bill Sweetman of Aviation Week wrote…

Well, now we know why all of us had trouble ID’ing the helicopter that crashed, or was brought down, in the Osama raid.

It was a secretly developed stealth helicopter, probably a highly modified version of an H-60 Blackhawk. Photos published in the Daily Mail and on the Secret Projects board show that the helicopter’s tail features stealth-configured shapes on the boom and tip fairings, swept stabilizers and a “dishpan” cover over a non-standard five-or-six-blade tail rotor. It has a silver-loaded infra-red suppression finish similar to that seen on some V-22s.

Stealth helicopter technology in itself is not new and was applied extensively to the RAH-66 Comanche. Priorities are usually different versus fixed-wing aircraft. Reducing noise and making it less conspicuous is the first job

No wonder the team tried to destroy it. The photos show that they did a thorough job – except for the end of the tailboom, which ended up outside the compound wall. (It almost looks as if the helo’s tail hit the wall on landing.)

Radar cross-section reduction is also possible – you can’t make a helo as radar-stealthy as a fixed-wing airplane, because of all its moving parts, but on the other hand it is generally operating at low altitude in ground clutter, and is not an easy target. Reducing RCS also makes jamming more effective, whether from the aircraft itself or from a standoff jammer.

The willingness to compromise this technology shows the importance of the mission in the eyes of US commanders — and what we’re seeing here also explains why Pakistani defenses didn’t see the first wave (at least) coming in.

On Sea, Air or Land the SEALs are the Last Thing Bad Guys See

Seals during training exercises. Photo Landov

“SEALs are capable of great violence, but that’s not what makes them truly special. Given two weeks of training and a bunch of rifles, any reasonably fit group of 16 athletes (the size of a SEAL platoon) can be trained to do harm. What distinguishes SEALs is that they can be thoughtful, disciplined and proportional in the use of force.”  Eric Greitens. See his excellent article on the SEALs in the Wall Street Journal

It made for a very exciting Sunday evening. Badass SEALs and badass machines kicking the enemy’s butt. Shame they had to blow the damn helo up. Pretty pricey I’d bet. Oh well, put it on my tab…

Related stories…

12/5/11 – Downed UAV Technology Already Dated,  Aviation Week

See video and report on stealth helo on ABC…

Great WSJ article on the SEAL Sensiblity…

More inspiring SEAL stories in Marcus Luttrel’s,  Lone Survivor…

UAVs, & the unmanned war on terror, video interview with Spencer Ackerman.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. May 6, 2011 6:53 pm

    That isn’t a picture of Lockheed Martin’s Sentinel, that’s a picture of a similar BAE ship, you can see their logo clearly on it. The Sentinel has longer wings, you can see it here:

  2. May 6, 2011 11:05 pm

    Good catch Lisa. I think you’re right.

    The photo I used was mis-represented on a number of sites. Damn Internet. I’ve changed the photo, ta.

    I feel like such a Bruce…

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