Stealth Helicopter Technology

5 May 2011


1. Silver finish makes it harder to detect on radar and by infrared sensors

2. Shape of tailboom has been altered and possibly enlarged to evade radar

3. Pan-like cover or hubcap over the rear rotor head conceals exposed machinery which is more easily picked up on radar

4. Extra blades on tail rotor reduce noise and lessen typical chopper sound

Rest of aircraft: There is speculation that the main rotor could also have had extra blades, retractable landing gear and a cover over the main rotor head

Source: Aviation Week

An article on the BBC, ‘Stealth helicopters’ used in Bin Laden raid,, discusses apparent signs of stealth technology incorporated into the helicopter that was inoperable and destroyed in the course of the commando raid on the hiding place of Osama Bin Laden. This is of the greatest interest and points to important technological and tactical developments.

Some time ago, in Signals Intelligence and American Culture, I mentioned the book Spycraft: The Secret History of the CIA’s Spytechs from Communism to Al-Qaeda, by Robert Wallace and H. Keith Melton. This book included a discussion of a “quiet” helicopter developed by the CIA, which could be considered the first step toward a comprehensive and robust suite of helicopter stealth technologies. Though it seems obvious in retrospect, and especially in light of the great leaps of stealth technology for fighter jets, I did not at the time think of the possibilities for extending these stealth technologies to helicopters.

Recently in The End of the Age of the Aircraft Carrier, I argued that while aircraft carriers, at some point in the foreseeable future, will no longer be the optimal platform for the in-theater maintenance of air power in the traditional air power form of fixed wing fighter aircraft, the role of helicopter carriers will grow over time. Helicopters cannot be flown supersonically from the other side of the planet, to strike a target and then return to a secure base. This is possible with fixed wing aircraft, but not possible with helicopters (look up “retreating blade stall” if you want to understand why this is the case).

In the above-mentioned post I also made the argument that helicopters have not yet been fully exploited on the battlefield, and that massed armor air assets might someday fulfill the role that massed mechanized armor on the ground fulfilled during the rapid advances of the Second World War. Stealth helicopter technologies would further augment the possibilities of the use of helicopters on the battlefield. As the technologies improve, a helicopter Blitzkrieg would only become more effective and more devastating. Massed armor air assets possessing a high level of stealth could establish air superiority over a battlefield before their presence was known or suspected.

Pay attention. This is the future of battle. Helicopter stealth technology is of the utmost importance.

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Note Added Monday 15 August 2011: The Financial Times has reported in Pakistan lets China see US helicopter by Anna Fifield in Washington that Pakistan has allowed Chinese military engineers to examine the fragments of the helicopter abandoned and destroyed in the Bin Laden raid. In spite of attempts to downplay the significance of helicopter stealth technology, we see that even in its fragmentary form such technologies are sufficient to spur an international incident. I have written more about helicopter technology and vulnerability today in Vulnerabilities of Vertical Lift.

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Grand Strategy Annex

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