Many of us have seen the movie Black Hawk Down. In it, Somalian militiamen loyal to Mohamed Farrah Aidid, race to a Mogadishu rooftop to get a clear shot with an RPG at a hovering US Forces’ Black Hawk helicopter.
Knocking out the tail rotor, the Black Hawk makes a perilous rotating descent, taking out the top of a minaret on the way down, causing US General William F “Bill” Garrison to remark, “Gentleman, we have lost the initiative.”
Dubbed Operation Gothic Serpent and involving the prestigious Task Force Ranger, the 15-hour battle left 18 Americans dead and 73 injured. It is estimated that thousands of Somalis also died.
Big, loud and bulky, Black Hawk helicopters are very vulnerable to incoming attack at low altitudes, especially when it comes to “Dust-off” missions — made famous by heroic Air Cavalry ops during the Vietnam war — which involve the evacuation of injured troops from hot LZs.
That vulnerability has taken a radical turn — pictures have emerged that appear to show US Army HH-60M medical evacuation, or “Dustoff,” helicopters, flying in Syria with a unique interim directional infrared countermeasures (DIRCM) system configuration, Joseph Trevithick of The Drive reported.
Two years ago, the service had hit setbacks in integrating this defensive suite, known as AN/AAQ-24, onto its Black Hawks, as well as AH-64 Apaches and CH-47F Chinooks, which it planned to use until it was able to field a new system of its own.
The US Marine Corps this week released HH-60M photos of the aircraft at an “undisclosed location” in Syria. Newsy‘s Jake Godin, who was among the first to spot them, wrote on Twitter that the location looked similar to a known base in the vicinity of the northern Syrian city of Sarrin.
Other information indicates that the helicopters are attached to elements of Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force-Central Command.
US Marine Corps units rotate through deployments with this regional contingency force, which in turn has supported US-led operations against ISIS in Syria and Iraq, The Drive reported.
The exact US force posture in Syria remains extremely fluid more than three weeks after the Pentagon announced plans for a near-total withdrawal of American forces from the northeastern part of the country.
More recently, some US troops have moved back into Syria to take up positions elsewhere, including guarding oil and gas fields in Deir Ez Zor province.
Whatever the case, it’s not surprising that the HH-60Ms are carrying a directional infrared countermeasures system (DIRCM). There have long been concerns about terrorists or other militant groups in Syria, including militias, employing shoulder-fired, heat-seeking, short-range surface-to-air missiles, also known as man-portable air defense systems or MANPADS.
The Dust-off Black Hawks, in this case, are equipped with a version of Northrop Grumman’s AN/AAQ-24 system, also known somewhat confusingly as the Large Aircraft Infrared Countermeasure (LAIRCM) system, The Drive reported.
The LAIRCM is in use on a wide variety of helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft across the US Navy, Marine Corps, and Air Force for more than a decade, including Air Force One and Air Force Two presidential jets.
This configuration consists primarily of six missile warning sensors and two turreted lasers, also known as Guardian Laser Transmitter Assemblies. A centralized control system links it all together.
Pictures show that the GLTAs are mounted, on each side of the helicopter, via what may be a single bracket, or two individual brackets mounted close together, attached to the underside of the fuselage, The Drive reported.
This would provide an arc of coverage on either side — detecting incoming heat-seeking missiles via the warning sensors and then cueing the lasers to fire at the threat’s seeker head, blinding or confusing it and throwing the weapon off course.