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About that Stealth Helicopter

ABC news reports that China asked Pakistan for access to the wreckage of the allegedly stealth helicopter the US used in the Osama bin Laden raid.

This is a big revelation that only confirms my earlier suspicions that the failure to destroy the whole wreckage will come back to haunt us.

Indeed, I wouldn’t be surprised if China had someone on the next flight to Islamabad with bags of cash the minute rumors of a wreckage first surfaced. I’m willing to bet senior US officials even raised the question of how much it’d cost us to get the wreckage back in their initial phone calls with their Pakistani counterparts.

Its that big of a deal.

The US has been working on stealth (be it quieter or radar absorbing) helicopters since the 1960’s. The CIA allegedly had two prototypes that worked so well one couldn’t detect it or place its direction of travel until it was only 100-200 yards away. In helicopter terms, esp. for the 1960’s, that’s amazing technology.

The US military hasn’t acknowledged the existence of a major new/secret aircraft weapons technology since the revelation of our stealth fighters and bombers in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s (aircraft built on technology first developed in the 1970’s). Say what you will about armed drones and even stealth drones, but its been a LONG time (esp. in terms of technological development) since the US government has lifted the curtain on a whole new, previously unimaginable line of air weapons systems. Remember, most people didn’t have the internet in their homes when the last revelation occurred…One has to wonder if we’ve perfected WARP drive or the Stargate at this point? (I kid…I think?).

And while the United States and China continue their awkward dance as mutually assured economic codependents, its no secret that each nation’s military continues to eye the other as the likely prime competitor and aggressor of the not-too-distant future. Hence, Beijing’s desire to get their hands on any piece of an allegedly stealth US helicopter.

For starters, China could learn a multitude of valuable information from the surviving pieces of the wreckage (i.e. the tail rotor section):

  • The current state of US stealth technology — the skin on the airframe will be key to revealing any potential radar absorbing capabilities.
  • Potential weakness and benefits in current US stealth technology and the likely pace at which the US is developing it
  • A chance to compare their (China’s) current capabilities to US capabilities and measure who is leading in the race to build truly stealth helicopters

Most importantly, China will likely reverse engineer off the surviving pieces of the wreckage. Its another major win for Beijing — the US did all the work, and like the Soviets before them, the Communists (Capitalists? Chinese…) in Beijing will reap the benefits without having to pay for the expensive technological development. We have to assume that China’s stealth aircraft (helicopters and/or jets) capabilities will soon be synonymous with whatever the US left behind in bin Laden’s back yard.

And then there’s Pakistan and India. China is Pakistan’s main weapons co-developer. Pakistan will likely give China access to the wreckage in exchange for whatever Beijing can develop off of it — i.e. if China gets a stealth helicopter out of this, so does Pakistan. And that doesn’t bode too well for Pakistani-Indian relations. For if India suspects Pakistan has a stealth helicopter, then they will have to have one too…and the same holds true for any potential use of the helicopter’s skin on future Pakistani or Chinese jet aircraft.

This is how arms races begin.

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About Matt Zeller

I was the 2010 Democratic Nominee for Congress in NY's 29th District. I'm an Afghan War Veteran and currently serve as a Captain in the US Army Reserves.

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