Are you worried that we’re here hearing too much too often about what should be, or used to be, secret operations? The bin Laden operation opened up a lot of press coverage and speculation, especially with the tail rotor of a helicopter left behind.
This is kind of the trade-off when you live in a society where you have freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and you’ve got so many people that want to share in good news. I think it would have been much more convenient had that component of the aircraft not been left there because that makes it really complicated. We invest a lot of money in technology. It’s one of the game-changing aspects of the United States military. It’s because of our investment in research and development, and those things aren’t cheap. Unfortunately, there others who want to exploit what we’ve invested in. We have the greatest scientists in the world that are teaming with smart folks in our military to help develop technologies that give our troops the advantage.
The helicopters used in the raid weren’t the first US military helicopters with stealth capability. Didn’t the Comanche helicopter have it?Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.
It was a desirable aspect of the Comanche. Of course, there was so much we expected of Comanche. It was an aircraft ahead of its time, and technology couldn’t keep up. But there were some spinoffs with regard to technology that we’ve gone ahead and, I think, added into current day Army aircraft and other aircraft. The Blackhawk, for example—the Blackhawk is in the Navy, it’s in the Air Force, it’s in the Army. And it’s in other nations around the world. It’s a tremendously capable aircraft.
Do you think the fact that the rotor section got left behind and Pakistan now has it – is there a realistic possibility they’re going to share technology with China?
I hope not. But I think anything’s possible when you’re dealing in this environment. I would hope that that the component would be turned back to the United States so that we could safeguard it.
When you first heard about the bin Laden raid, what were the biggest things that you thought could go wrong from a pilot’s point of view?
Well, when I looked at the distances. I’m somewhat familiar with that portion of Afghanistan, having spent quite a bit of time there. I figure they probably had to refuel and launch from one of these bases that’s right on the border. When you look at the distance to Islamabad, and then based on the reporting, it was about 30 miles north of that. Well, that’s about 150 to 170 nautical miles. If we just do a planning factor of 120 knots or 110 knots, it’s going to tell you, ‘wow, that was like a five-hour operation.’ So when you start thinking about a five-hour operation, in somebody else’s backyard, you don’t want anything to go wrong, because if anything goes wrong, it’s above the fold stuff in the Washington Post. So you’ve got to have second and third order of contingencies addressed, and we’re not even talking about taking enemy fire and getting shot down—we’re talking about penetrating the airspace, flying the mission profile, an airplane that runs into problems. So the contingency, if you have an aircraft go down, then you’ve always got to think back to Somalia. What happens when an aircraft goes down? It’s like a magnet for jihadists. And how quickly can I get a Quick Reaction Force (QRF) in there to secure it and get the folks out? And then what happens if somebody gets hurt?