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Pieces of the crashed chopper used in the killing of terrorist leader Osama bin Laden feature a sophisticated stealth design.  (Source: Reuters via Newscom)

The choppers used reportedly were radar-avoiding modified Black Hawk MH-60 (pictured) helicopters designed by Lockheed Martin and manufactured by Boeing Comp.  (Source: Naval Technology)

Osama bin Laden was almost tipped off thanks to a release of information by Wikileaks just days before the attack.  (Source: The Times)

Osama bin Laden broke with his own procedure and stored hard drives around his house -- as a result, U.S. intelligence now has a wealth of info on Al Qaeda.  (Source: The Long War Journal)
Wikileaks published just days before that the U.S. was on to bin Laden's location, nearly tipped him off

For a decade after his terrible 9/11 attacks, which left over 3,000 Americans dead, Osama bin Laden avoided American authorities, often narrowly escaping bombings and raids by a window of hours.  But on Sunday May 1, 2011 in a raid authorized by U.S. President Barack Obama, U.S. Navy Seals shot and killed bin Laden inside a private residential compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan.

I. Stealth Choppers -- Key to the Strike?

According to numerous sources, including a report in the online magazine Army Times, one of the keys to the raid were modified MH-60 Black Hawk helicopters designed for stealth.

The helicopters were still relatively noisy, but they were virtually invisible to radar.  That was thanks to low observable modifications that added "several hundred pounds" of weight to the helicopters.  A UH-60 -- one of the most commonly used Black Hawk helicopters -- weighs about 10,624 lb. when empty.  A MH-60 can weigh between 11,124 and 11,624 lb.  And with the modifications, the empty chopper would be tipping the scales at 11,524 to 12,024 lb.

The modified helicopter bears little resemblance to a traditional Black Hawk, according to those who've seen them -- they have distinct lines.  And most notably their windshield has been painted with a special coating that reduces the radar cross-section.  That coating also presents a danger as it can interfere with the night-vision goggles pilots typically use to navigate at night.

II. History of the Stealth MH-60

The "low-observable" program, which reportedly birthed the unique chopper, had its roots in the stealthy AH-6 Little Bird choppers employed by U.S. Special Forces in the 1980s.  

In the 1990s, the U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM), working with Lockheed-Martin Corp.'s (LMT) Skunk Works division, looked to revamp the design.  Skunk Works, which had been responsible for the F-117 stealth ground attack aircraft, applied its stealth experience to the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment’s MH-60s.  

The work was continued in the "1999 to 2000 timeframe" by the Boeing Company (BA), which was financed by USSOCOM to modify several MH-60s to the Lockheed's stealth design.  The plan was to station the new choppers at a base in Nevada under the command of a lieutenant colonel.  The plan was to assign 35 to 50 USSOCOM warriors to the unit.

Describes a source in the Army Times report, "The intent was always to move it out west where it could be kept in a covered capability. There were going to be four [low-observable] aircraft, they were going to have a couple of 'slick' unmodified Black Hawks, and that was going to be their job was to fly the low-observables."

"[W]ithin the last two years", those plans were cancelled, but not before a few of the stealth copters had been delivered.  Reportedly, the U.S. Military would rotate traditional MH-60 Black Hawk crews -- members of the 160th’s 1st Battalion, headquartered at Fort Campbell, Ky. -- to the Nevada base to train on stealth Black Hawks.  In short, the project was scaled back, but remained partially executed.

III. Launching the Mission

When President Obama gave the order to execute the strike, he may have launched the first major battlefield test of the new chopper design (though it is possible they were used in the recent Afghanistan and Iraq conflicts).

One mystery is how the helicopters were able to reach the target and return.  The stealth choppers reportedly lacked air-to-air refueling probes, which would disrupt the radar cross-section.  The maximum ferry range of the choppers was 1,318 miles.  So if they were launched at sea, they would have been unable to return, as the target was ~700 miles inland.  

More likely, the helicopters may have landed somewhere in Afghanistan, though the launch location is still ambiguous.  Also possible is that the helicopters could have been fitted with extended range tanks to complete the trip from sea and back.

According to cables aired by Wikileaks in recent months, it was clear that the U.S. believed senior military and government leadership in Pakistan were consorting with Al Qaeda, bin Laden's terrorist organization.  The operation thus was, according to some sources, carried out without informing Pakistan for fear that bin Laden would be tipped off and escape.

Speaking of Wikileaks, the whistleblowing-cum-espionage organization almost tipped off bin Laden that the U.S. authorities were onto his whereabouts, if only he had read their most recent publication.

Recently leaked profiles of Guantánamo Bay detainees identify the U.S. as recently suspecting that senior-level Al Qaeda were residing in Abbottabad, Pakistan.

According to a Pakistani news report one document reads:

In October 2002, Nashwan Abd al-Razzaq Abd al-Baqi, aka (Abd al-Hadi al-Iraqi), contacted and asked detainee (Libi) to work with him in Peshawar. Detainee accepted the offer and spent the next five to six months working under Al-Baqi organizing the purchase of supplies for fighters including medicine, lights, batteries, food, and clothing. In July 2003, detainee received a letter from Osama bin Laden’s designated courier, Maulawi Abd al-Khaliq Jan, requesting detainee to take on the responsibility of collecting donations, organizing travel, and distributing funds to families in Pakistan. Bin Laden stated detainee would be the official messenger between him and others in Pakistan.

In mid-2003, detainee moved his family to Abbottabad and worked between Abbottabad and Peshawar.  Between August 2003 and February 2004, detainee travelled to Shkai, Pakistan on three occasions. While at Shkai, detainee met with al-Qaeda’s Sharia Council, delivered funds to fighters and met with Hamza Rabia.

In mid 2004, detainee moved his family from Abbottabad to Bajaur. During October 2004, detainee received a letter from Bin Laden asking about the financial situations in Pakistan and Waziristan. In addition to the letter, there was a video tape of Bin Laden speeches.

If bin Laden had known that U.S. authorities were on to his secret hiding spot, he could have vacated the area.

Fortunately for the lives of Arab nationals and Americans, the hint Wikileaks dropped fell on deaf ears and bin Laden appeared oblivious to the impending strike.

IV. The Strike -- A Crash, but Mission Success

Early Monday morning, under the black of night, chaos erupted.  The helicopters successfully dumped a large team of Navy Seal special operatives, undetected by radar.  But even as the firefight in the compound ensued, one of the helicopters crashed to the ground.

It is thought that the crash may have been due to an unusual phenomenon called "settling with power", which occurs when a helicopter descends more rapidly than intended due to the rotors failing to produce sufficient lift to counter their turbulent downwash.

That might have been the "price" for the great stealth-avoidance characteristics of the chopper.  It is thought that the extra weight of the stealth modifications, combined with the full load of the combat team, likely combined to force the chopper down.

Fortunately no personnel were seriously injured, and the Special Forces operatives were able to destroy the body of the helicopter with thermite grenades.  But the explosion did not destroy all of the craft -- the helicopter’s tail boom, tail rotor assembly and horizontal stabilizers were left intact and unrecovered in a courtyard at the compound.

Pictures of those parts revealed the blocky radar-avoiding design and what might be the true story of the raid, if you believe retired U.S. Military staff.

V. More Questions Raised

The assassination raised many fascinating questions for the U.S. media, academic community, intelligence agencies, military, and government.  

For example, bin Laden was widely thought to be hiding in caves in the Hindu Kush Mountains between Afghanistan and northern Pakistan.  Instead, bin Laden appears to have been hiding in the swank residential compound since 2005.

Another mistaken belief was that bin Laden was suffering from kidney failure and required dialysis.  A search of the house revealed no dialysis equipment or medications, other than some eye drops and Vaseline.  

Bin Laden was also thought to be heavily armed, but was initially spotted unarmed, according to sources, though some claim he picked up a weapon after using one of his wives as a human shield.

And he made a mistake that may dearly cost Al Qaeda -- reportedly he left hard drives with a wealth of documents lying around the house, in direct violation with his own Al Qaeda code of operations he authored.  Those hard drives may provide U.S. operatives the clues they need to ferret out the remaining vestiges of Al Qaeda in the Middle East and Africa.

While there are many new questions, some fascinating dialogues from a tech perspective, and an abundance of theories, perhaps the most interesting is the tale of the stealth choppers and their role in the attack. If true, the operation stands as a great vindication of the U.S. stealth air initiative -- often chastised for its "over-spending".

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RE: Vaseline ?
By MozeeToby on 5/5/2011 2:08:52 PM , Rating: 2
I could find substantially similar excerpts from the Bible, did it take a scripture re-write for christian cultures to give women (nearly) equal status to men?

RE: Vaseline ?
By The Raven on 5/5/2011 2:34:02 PM , Rating: 4
I am not focusing on the teachings so much as the "goal" of the believer. I mean Buddha or Christ never said, "follow me and you'll get laid!" I hate to put it so crudely but that is what it sounds like to me.

Usually in the various religions of the world the idea of heaven is to be with your family and/or reach a state of nirvana or something kinda noble like that.

RE: Vaseline ?
By ClownPuncher on 5/5/2011 3:01:32 PM , Rating: 2
The assumption that all Muslims practice faith in the exact same way is a foreign idea to me. There are many secular Muslims as well as Sunni, Shi'ah, Sufi, Wahabi even Druze.

And, yes, I do think Saudi Arabia is backwards in their form of law. If a girl gets raped, she can be lashed or worse for dressing "provocatively". Homosexuals are often hung in public.

I'd say out of all of the Muslim countries, they are the most sinister.

RE: Vaseline ?
By The Raven on 5/11/2011 9:41:15 AM , Rating: 2
The assumption that all Muslims practice faith in the exact same way is a foreign idea to me.

Yeah me too. We are talking about a particular region (just like you with your opinion of SA) and why they are so backward. It seems to me that it is due to seemingly theocratic issues (where church and state are a bit too close).

RE: Vaseline ?
By nstott on 5/5/2011 3:50:38 PM , Rating: 2
Your last quote about the 72 virgins was from the Hadith, not the Qur'an. The Hadith, or Sayings of the Prophet, is a collection of texts that is accepted in varying degrees by Muslims of different sects. Most Muslims consider most Hadith to be false and made up by past rulers to justify their own questionable practices through attribution to Muhammad. In the case of Wahhabi Islamists, the promise of 72 virgins is used to lure young men with sh!tty, hopeless lives into blowing themselves up for Allah.

In Christianity, there are similar apocryphal books of questionable authority, like The Gospel of Mary. Anyway, go read Song of Solomon, what some consider to be "biblical trash" that shouldn't have made the final cut during the lengthy canonization process, in the Bible if you want to read something similar to what you quoted from the Qur'an. (It's rather amusing, such as Solomon describing his beloved as having teeth like a flock of perfectly shorn sheep and breasts like twin roe deer: think "prancing.")

RE: Vaseline ?
By The Raven on 5/11/2011 9:49:35 AM , Rating: 2
The Hadith, or Sayings of the Prophet, is a collection of texts that is accepted in varying degrees by Muslims of different sects. Most Muslims consider most Hadith to be false and made up by past rulers to justify their own questionable practices through attribution to Muhammad.
Thank you for clarification, but since we are not talking about all Muslims and only those in backward middle-eastern countries that seem stuck in the 14th century, when you say "most Muslims" do you mean most Muslims in the middle east (or we can pick on just Saudi Arabia if you want)? That is the question. I don't question whether or not most Muslims the world over are peaceful people who treat women with respect. We're just talking the ME.

RE: Vaseline ?
By nstott on 5/13/2011 11:37:25 AM , Rating: 2
I really meant most Muslims, but there is variation as to what's accepted among the Hadith based on location (country), tribe, and sect. The Wahhabi sub-sect (cult) of the Sunni sect based in Saudi Arabia pushes the 72 virgins Hadith in order to promote suicide bombing. Most Muslims are also brainwashed from birth such that, even though most of them will say terrorism is wrong, they still sympathize with the causes behind terrorism.

Also, during the Dark Ages, the Muslim empire was far more enlightened than Europe. Amazingly, Jews were even treated better under Islam than under Catholicism during that time. Their current state is based on internal oppression and brainwashing over the centuries.

RE: Vaseline ?
By The Raven on 5/13/2011 5:45:26 PM , Rating: 2
Most Muslims are also brainwashed from birth such that, even though most of them will say terrorism is wrong, they still sympathize with the causes behind terrorism.
Well even I might sympathize with the causes behind terrorism. The problem is the terrorism. I mean we could've used terrorism to free ourselves from the English in 1776, right? So no harm nor foul there.
Also, during the Dark Ages, the Muslim empire was far more enlightened than Europe.

This is in response to some of your other replies as well (which I greatly appreciate BTW) but the "who's more enlightened/righteous?" contest is not what I'm talking about.
Amazingly, Jews were even treated better under Islam than under Catholicism during that time.

Actually not that amazing since they allegedly killed their version (not really but you know what I mean) of Mohammed.

Their current state is based on internal oppression and brainwashing over the centuries.

This is what I (and the rest of the world) is trying to get at. Our question here in other words that are more in line with your response is "Why are they oppressed even after all these centuries?" I mean we've (meaning the Western and Eastern world, Christian or not) freed men, women, slaves/Blacks, gays, and even Black shemale gays, while the Middle East is still oppressed as in the 1400s (maybe even more so). (And I don't mean ALL of the Middle East, just the oppressed counties/areas.

But I guess we are seeing that turn around hopefully with the revolutions that are going on.

Anyway, thank you for your help, but I need to converse more with someone who believes in the Hadith for clarification on my original question regarding the 72 virgins. I know that not all Muslims aren't bad and even that not all Muslims who believe in the Hadith are not bad. But some of them are and so I am interested in those ones. And particularly those who believe in the Hadith. All the others can sleep soundly since I am not talking about them. Cheers.

RE: Vaseline ?
By delphinus100 on 5/5/2011 8:35:15 PM , Rating: 3
I mean Buddha or Christ never said, "follow me and you'll get laid!" I hate to put it so crudely but that is what it sounds like to me.

And it may be that in a society where the more powerful guys (your major terrorist, for example) suck up more than their share of women, the idea of 'martyring' one's self becomes even more attractive if one believes there will (finally) be access to lots of women in the afterlife...

RE: Vaseline ?
By therealnickdanger on 5/5/2011 3:03:33 PM , Rating: 4
The Bible (Hebrew TaNaKh + christian New Testament) is actually pretty clear that men and women are equal - in fact many positive stories of faith in the Bible show women clearly dominating and/or circumventing their husbands or fathers in order to fulfill a command or prophesy of God.

At first glace, you see a patriarchal structure, but digging deeper you come to find that many patriarchs are flawed and foolish, often corrected or even embarrassed by their righteous female counterparts. What people get hung up on in the man vs. woman verses are the different roles that men and women have in respect to day-to-day living and religious protocol.

Even if you're an evolutionary biologist and deny all aspects of God, you know that males and females of the species respond and behave to different situations unequally. This doesn't make males and females unequal.

Like the Quran, you have to read everything in context in order to gain proper understanding. I've done a fair bit of research into contrasting and comparing ancient religious texts - not saying I'm a professional nor have I read them all or written papers on them - but the Bible and Quran are vastly different.

One of the most intriguing aspects of Islam is the tradition of naskh or "abrogation". Basically, verses written chronologically later supercede verses written earlier, even if they are contradictory. This is the basis of progressive revelation. During his life in Mecca, Muhammad's suras (chapters in Quran) were mostly peaceful and tranquil - rather like his life there. However, after the conquest of Medina and further campaigns, his suras took a much more violent tone. To reconcile these differences, early muslim scholars used abrogation for the groundwork of Islamic theology.

Depending upon whom you ask, violent muslims trying to kill "infidels" to further Islam are following the Quran and the proper exegesis of abrogation closely. Others that read only the older, more peaceful verses of the Quran claim that abrogation is not widely accepted.

I work with several muslims that don't even know about abrogation. I also work with many christians that can't even list all 10 commandments. LOL I imagine how closely you follow and obey your religious book of choice has a lot more to do with where you grow up.

RE: Vaseline ?
By nstott on 5/5/2011 4:45:48 PM , Rating: 2
Infidels, or kafir, are pagans. In the Qur'an, Jews and Christians are considered "People of the Book," referring to "The Bible." Islamists have lumped Jews and Christians in with kafir.

Keep in mind, these pagans weren't mere nature lovers but had religious practices that included fertility god worship through ritual prostitution and burning live babies as sacrifice. The Old Testament policy towards infidels (pagans) wasn't any kinder than the Qur'anic one (SEE Deuteronomy 7 as one general example).

Also, the Suras (chapters or sections) of the Qur'an are roughly placed in order of longest to shortest in the book rather than chronological order, which can make abrogation confusing if one doesn't keep that in mind.

RE: Vaseline ?
By The Raven on 5/11/2011 10:06:38 AM , Rating: 2
Infidels, or kafir, are pagans. In the Qur'an , Jews and Christians are considered "People of the Book," referring to "The Bible." Islamists have lumped Jews and Christians in with kafir.
I think you misspoke...aren't Islamists the ones who believe in the Qur'an? ;-)

RE: Vaseline ?
By nstott on 5/13/2011 11:49:27 AM , Rating: 2
Islamists, who are militant Muslims that want an Islamic state throughout the world, claim to believe in the Qur'an. Muslims believe that "The Bible" has been changed and tainted over time in order to explain its discrepancies with the Qur'an. According to the Qur'an, Jews and Christians are "People of the Book." Under Sharia Law, the Jews and Christians were only to be taxed at a higher rate as an incentive to convert to Islam, not slaughtered like the infidel pagans. The Wahhabi Islamists have rebranded Jews and Christians as infidels, and I've heard that they've even made their own simplified versions of the Qur'an or of its teachings in order to lump Jews and Christians in with the infidels. So, no, I didn't misspeak.

RE: Vaseline ?
By The Raven on 5/13/2011 6:10:50 PM , Rating: 2
Oh you mean Islamist as in an Islamic Fundamentalist.

I read -ist as in Buddh-ist.

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