The 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment is the U.S. military’s premier rotary-wing special operations unit. Created in the 1980s after the failed attempt to rescue the American hostages from Iran, the “Night Stalkers,” as the unit is nicknamed, has seen action in every major and minor conflict ever since.
These are the pilots who flew the stealth helicopters that carried SEAL Team 6 in the Osama bin Laden raid and the pilots who put the Delta Force operators on the ground during the raid that killed Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of the Islamic State. Simply put, there are no better helicopter pilots in the world.
With a battle-proven motto “Night Stalkers Don’t Quit,” the 160th SOAR brings impressive precision strike capabilities to the U.S. special operations arsenal. A rare video from Iraq showcases their deadly precision, but before we delve into that, let’s go over the Night Stalker arsenal.
The Night Stalkers
The 160th SOAR is comprised of four battalions that fly three main platforms: the AH-6 (attack) and MH-6 (assault/transport) Little Bird; the MH-60 (assault/transport) and MH-60 DAP (attack) Black Hawk; and the MH-47 Chinook (assault/transport).
AH-6 (attack) and MH-6 (assault/transport) Little Bird
The Little Bird is a light helicopter that can carry either only weapons, in the case of the AH-6, or operators, in the case of the MH-6.
The AH-6 specializes in armed reconnaissance, direct action, and close air support. In order to meet the requirements of those mission sets, the Little Bird has a sizeable arsenal available to it, including the GAU-19 .50 caliber Gatling gun, M134 Minigun, Hydra 70 rockets, Hellfire anti-tank, and Stinger anti-air missiles.
The MH-6, the unarmed version, can surgically and quickly insert special operators on targets. It can carry four operators, two on each pod, or other vehicles, like motorcycles (and even the occasional kayak).
Both Little Bird variants are mostly used for their speed, agility, and precision. Little Birds can land almost anywhere, including on top of hijacked airplanes, moving trains, and rooftops.
“The MD-530 series helicopter (AH/MH) is very easily maintained and a combat worthy helo. Developed in the late 1950’s by Mr. Hughes to be a simple machine as helicopters go and very crash worthy,” Retired Chief Warrant Officer 4 Greg Coker, a former Little Bird pilot, told Sandboxx News.
“There are no hydraulics in the aircraft which provides easy maintenance. The Little Bird pilots are all capable of conducting maintenance on the aircraft if needed,” Coker explained.
“However, the crew chief cringes when they see a pilot working on THEIR helo. The AH uses metal blades which provides longer use and will take bullet hits and not come apart like a composite blade used on many helos. It is a War Horse.”
A legendary Night Stalker and AH-6 Little Bird pilot with 11 combat deployments under his belt and 30 years of service, Coker has seen it all. In 2004, his AH-6 Little Bird was shot down by Iraqi insurgents carrying a Man-Portable Air-Defense System (MANPAD). Not only did Coker and his co-pilot manage to crash safely, but they also joined the Delta Force assault team that came to their rescue and immediately went after the very same insurgents who shot them down.
Coker has written about this experience and plenty of others in his superb book “Daith Waits in the Dark: Six Guns Don’t Miss.”
MH-60 Black Hawk
The Blackhawk is the medium-lift helicopter of choice for the U.S. Army. The Night Stalkers use the “M” special operations version of the aircraft. The MH-60 is used to carry squad-size elements of special operators. This is one of the most widely used 160th SOAR helicopters and it gained fame (or infamy) during the “Black Hawk Down” incident in Somalia in 1993. During the incident, Somali insurgents shot down two MH-60s, spurring a fierce battle that lasted for almost two days and became the basis for a hit movie.
You can watch the impressive capabilities of the MH-60 in the video below.
In addition to the standard assault/transport version of the helicopter, there is the Direct Assault Penetration (DAP), a heavily armed version of the MH-60 that is designed to provide close air support to commandos or take out heavily fortified targets.
The DAP version has two small wings, or Light Armament Support Structures (LASS), attached to the sides that can carry an impressive arsenal, including M134 miniguns, M230 30mm chain guns, GAU 19 .50 caliber machine gun, rocket pods, Hellfire missiles, and Stinger missiles.
The venerable Chinook is the heavy-lift workhorse of the Night Stalkers. With its ability to carry close to 40 fully armed commandos, the MH-47 is primarily used for long-range special operations insertions.
When Delta Force went after Mullah Omar, the leader of the Taliban, deep inside Afghanistan on the days after 9/11, it was four MH-47 Chinooks that carried the assault force. Operation Gecko included the longest air assault in history and perfectly showed the capabilities of the Chinook. Despite its size and weight, the Chinook can be surprisingly agile and nimble when piloted by the right hands.
Besides these three rotary-wing platforms, the 160th SOAR also flies the MQ-1C Gray Eagle remotely piloted aircraft. Although there is only a limited number of drones within the Night Stalker ranks, they are devastatingly effective. Over an 11-month period in 2015, Night Stalker MQ-1Cs killed more than 300 Taliban and Islamic State fighters.
Death Waits in the Dark
In the following leaked video, we can see the impressive precision strike capabilities of the Night Stalkers. Taken in Iraq in the mid-2000s, the video shows U.S. special operations forces on the ground calling in close air support on an insurgent position. The commandos use infrared lasers, which are only visible through night vision goggles, to “paint” the target and guide the Night Stalkers. Then, MH-60 DAPs and AH-6 Little Birds take turns on the target with impressive results. The night literally turns into day.
Editor’s Warning: The following video shows real combat footage and includes profanity. Viewer discretion is advised.