America’s 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (SOAR) is world renowned for its ability to get special operators into and out of the fight with stealth and precision. The pilots that earn a place in the 160th, or Nightstalkers as they’re commonly called, operate some of the most capabile military aircraft on the planet under only the most difficult of conditions — low visibility, extreme weather conditions, and the constant threat of active engagement are just part of the 160th is built to contend with — and Russia is increasingly aware of just how valuable a special operations taxi service of the sort can be.

A pilot from the 160th inserts a team of Army Rangers (U.S. Army Photo)

This year, Russia is celebrating the one-year anniversary of establishing their own iteration of America’s special operations aviation detachment. Housed within the 344th State Center for Combat Application and Retraining of Flight Personnel, Russian military pilots have traveled to Torzhok where they train alongside (and compete against) other pilots from around the Russian military. At the end of they call “theoretical course work,” the best and most capable pilots are selected to move on to more arduous practical training that forms the pipeline into Russia’s special operations aviation units.

“We must covertly get out to the designated area as soon as possible. By special means, not visible to the eye of the person, to find a group of special forces and evacuate it. Or, having received from the group of targeting, to strike the enemy accurately,” the squadron commander, Lt. Col. Vladimir Salyov, told Russian media outlet Tsarizm.

One of the biggest challenges of being a special operations aviator for any national military is operating under cover of darkness. American special operations units commonly insert and extract at night, meaning the aircraft used in both operations must also be able to operate in total darkness with minimal communications. As the Russians have found in their first year of training their own version of the Nightstalkers, operating at night and flying complex missions with an extremely high level of proficiency are entirely different things.