Some sharp eyes over at The Drive recently spotted a modification to the MH-6 Little Bird helicopter in a USASOC-released video. The footage shows the Little Bird configured with external pods designed for ferrying special operations soldiers to their targets, but underneath one can see a rectangular attachment that appears to be an additional fuel tank. Robertson Fuel Systems makes the modification known as Improved Conformal Equipment (ICE), which extends the Little Bird’s range by 200 nautical miles, according to the company’s promotional materials.
The 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (SOAR), widely known as the Night Stalkers, are the helicopter pilots who fly special operations missions around the globe. They bring a very unique set of capabilities to the table, unlike those found in any other military. The unit was created after the fiasco at Desert One in 1980, after which it was realized that special operations units—to include Rangers, SEALs, and Delta Force—required their own dedicated aviation assets.
The 160th routinely conducts joint training exercises within the United States with the units they will be deploying with overseas. Sometimes these exercises take the form of pre-mission training for an upcoming deployment. Others are readiness exercises, and once in a while, they are dress rehearsals for specific classified operations such as the raid that killed Osama Bin Laden (the rehearsals took place at the CIA’s Harvey Point facility). On other occasions, these flybys are conducted as a show of force just prior to major events like G12 summits or the Olympics to warn any terrorists plotting an attack that they will be facing the varsity team if they do anything stupid.
The Night Stalkers and their JSOC counterparts, such as Delta Force, have previously conducted such exercises in Manhattan, seemingly every few years. Normally these exercises include a full mission profile setup in which the island of Manhattan is notionally designated an enemy nation for the sake of the training mission. JSOC operators then clandestinely infiltrate Manhattan, collect intelligence on the training targets, and then the assaulters begin their own mission rehearsals. Finally, the 160th spins up their helicopters and the assault force is flown into wherever the realistic urban training is to take place to rescue a hostage, capture/kill a high-value target (HVT), or whatever other tasks they have been assigned.
There has been talk recently of the Little Bird being phased out of operation and being replaced with a more modern airframe, but considering that the U.S. military just bought a number of the specially designed special operations helicopters, it does not appear that the iconic MH-6 is going away anytime soon.