By: Warren Gray

“The moment you deploy special operations

forces, you have declared war.”

– Lt. Cdr. Michael J. Walsh, Navy SEAL

(From: At the Hurricane’s Eye,

by Greg Walker, 1993.)

When American ground troops require close air support from U.S. Army assets, they usually call upon the AH-64D/EApache helicopter gunship for aerial firepower to suppress enemy defenses. But U.S. special operations forces employ smaller, lighter, quieter, more-nimble gunships for specialized, secret missions.

The Army’s elite, 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (Airborne), also known as the 160th SOAR(A), Task Force 160, TF-160, or the “Night Stalkers,” formed at Campbell Army Airfield on Fort Campbell, Kentucky, in 1981, was created to provide dedicated, aviation support to U.S. special operations units. This includes an estimated 180 MH-47GChinook large transports, MH-60M Black Hawk medium transports, and MH-6M Little Bird tiny transports, plus 38 armed MH-60MBlack Hawk and AH-6M Little Bird attack helicopters, mostly painted overall, flat black, for night operations. They also possess, since 2013, a dozen MQ-1C Improved Gray Eagle (Predator-derivative), Extended-Range reconnaissance drones, with a further 12 to be received very soon. These are each armed with up to four AGM-114R9E/R9X Hellfire II laser-guided missiles.

The ultra-secret Aviation Technology Office (ATO), formerly known as the 1st Rotary Wing Test Activity, then as Aviation Technical Services (one of many cover names), and later as the Flight Concepts Division (FCD), until 2017, was formed at Felker Army Airfield on Fort Eustis, Virginia, in March of the same year, with CIA assistance, as a covert, special operations aviation asset supporting the nation’s very finest, counterterrorist units. Its military code name was initially “Seaspray,” but this has changed every few years since then, to include names such as “Quasar Talent,” Echo Squadron (of Delta Force), and “Latent Arrow.”

ATO is manned primarily by former 160th SOAR(A) pilots, and specializes in Top-Secret, plausibly-deniable missions, often deep behind enemy lines. It operates at least two dozen aircraft, including the CH/MH-47F/G Chinook, MH-60M Black Hawk, and Bell 407GX or GXP, all recently seen in satellite imagery of their base. Other aircraft in the past have included small numbers of MD-500Ds, MD-530Fs, MH-6J/MLittle Bird transports, AH-6J/M Little Bird gunships, Russian-made, Mi-17V-5 Hip-H helicopters, and Beechcraft King Air 350s.

A wartime photograph dated March 28, 2003, very clearly shows a totally-unmarked, FCD-operated, MD-530Fgunship in semi-gloss, desert tan at low altitude over western Iraq, with an M260 rocket pod (olive drab) on the right side, and no FLIR sensor. It was, in effect, a Cayuse Warrior, before the new nickname was officially applied. Also, one existing photo taken between 2010 and 2012 shows an unarmed, olive-drab, MH-60A/L Black Hawk in Afghanistan, bearing only the weathered, white tail number “337,” and no other markings at all, with an armed, FCD pilot in MultiCam uniform in the foreground, and his face blacked-out to protect his identity.

More-recent acquisitions apparently include the C-27J Spartan fixed-wing transport, and the S-92A Helibus helicopter, seen in dark-gray colors flying over northern Syria. ATO also apparently operated the famous, prototype, MH-60X “Stealth Hawk” helicopters used in the Osama bin Laden raid (Operation Neptune’s Spear) on May 2, 2011, in Abbottabad, Pakistan, and again subsequently on the unsuccessful, Foley Hostage-Rescue Raid in Syria on July 3, 2014.

Now let’s take an in-depth look at the Black Hawk, Little Bird, and Lightning gunships currently in use by special operations aviation forces:

MH-60M Black Hawk Direct-Action Penetrator (DAP): This is an armed version of the MH-60M Black Hawk special operations transport helicopter, also unofficially called the AH-60M, with only 16 produced for the 160th SOAR(A.) It’s an MH-60M airframe, equipped with an APQ-187 Silent Knight terrain-following/terrain-avoidance (TF/TA) radar for low-level flight, and a FLIR Systems ZSQ-2(V)2 Attack FLIR (forward-looking infra-red) sensor for nighttime targeting. There are stub wings accommodating either two or four external weapon stations, with the narrower, two-station model being the most common, so the helicopters may be more easily airlifted to war zones aboard C-5M Super Galaxy or C-17A Globemaster III jet transports, and a refueling probe allows for inflight refueling.

Standard weapons include a pair of fixed, forward-firing, M134D-H 7.62mm Gatling guns outside the side windows, sometimes (but not often) replaced by GAU-19A/B three-barrel, .50-caliber Gatling guns. A tank-busting, M230E1 30mm Chain-gun cannon from the AH-64D/E Apache gunship is usually mounted under the left wing.

The right wing formerly held a 19-shot pod full of 70mm Hydra-70 unguided rockets, but this has more-recently been replaced by a four-shot weapons rack, holding two AGM-114K-A Hellfire II anti-tank missiles and eight Lockheed Martin DAGR (Direct-Attack, Guided Rocket, or “Dagger”) laser-guided, 70mm missiles, or various combinations of these weapons. AIM-92H Stinger air-to-air missiles may also be carried in pairs, if there is a significant threat of enemy attack helicopters on a particular mission. In this gunship configuration, there is no room in the main cabin for passengers.

Various, armed versions of the UH-60L/P or S-70A Black Hawk have been exported to Afghanistan (58), Colombia (the AH-60L Arpia [“Harpy”] III/IV), South Korea (AH-60P), and most-recently, the United Arab Emirates (UH-60M Armed Black Hawk [ABH], or “Battlehawk.”)

On the pitch-black night of July 2-3, 2014, Chief Warrant Officer 4 Michael J. Siler piloted one of two MH-60LDAP gunships supporting the unsuccessful, Delta Force raid deep behind enemy lines in Syria to recue American hostage James Foley and others from captivity by ISIS terrorists. The Army was fully-prepared to execute the secret mission in June 2014, but it took President Obama nearly a full month (one U.S. military intelligence officer said 38 days) to approve it, and by then, the hostages were gone. As a direct result, they were beheaded by ISIS in August 2014.

Siler was the lead pilot on this 10-hour-long raid, which he “meticulously planned and flawlessly executed,” according to the Army. Although he was shot in the right leg at the height of the operation, Siler bravely continued to fly and support the Delta Force operators for the next five hours, later earning the Silver Star medal for heroism, the Purple Heart for his combat wound, and the Michael J. Novosel Army Aviator of the Year Award in 2015.

Then, in the early morning hours of Sunday, October 27, 2019, two MH-60M Black Hawk DAP gunships escorted six MH-47G Chinook special operations transports from Erbil, Iraq, to Barisha, Syria, on a Delta Force mission to kill or capture the notorious, ISIS terrorist leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. It was named Operation Kayla Mueller, after the young, American, humanitarian aid worker whom al-Baghdadi had personally imprisoned, beaten, raped, tortured, and probably murdered in 2015. The heavily-armed DAPs swooped in first, laying down suppressive fire upon the secret, terrorist compound so that 70 Delta operators and Army Rangers could accomplish their daring mission.

Six adult, ISIS members were killed in the intense action, and 11 children were rescued. Al-Baghdadi himself ran into one of the dead-end tunnels beneath the house with three of his young children, pursued by a Delta Force Belgian Malinois tracking dog named Conan, and blew himself and hi
s children up with an explosive, suicide vest, collapsing the tunnel. There were no American casualties, except for the dog, which was slightly injured, but soon recovered. When the mission was over two hours later, American F-15E Strike Eagle jet fighters fired six AGM-158AJASSM precision-guided missiles, totally obliterating the main building to prevent it being used as an ISIS stronghold or shrine to their fallen leader.

The 160th SOAR(A) also flies very large, MH-47E/G Chinook special operations transport helicopters, which are each armed with two M134D-HMinigun Gatling guns and a pair of M240H medium machine guns (or possibly GAU-21/A heavy machine guns, since 2010) for self-defense, and are sometimes incorrectly called “gunships” because of this (three armed MH-47 Chinooks were used on the 2011 raid to kill Osama bin Laden in Pakistan), but these are definitely not in the same category as actual, attack helicopters.

In 1965, during the Vietnam War, however, four early Chinooks were converted into heavily-armed, ACH-47A “Guns-A-Go-Go” gunships for the 53rd Aviation Detachment, each armed with twin, M24A1 20mm cannon, five .50-caliber, M2 aircraft machine guns, an M5 40mm grenade launcher, and 70mm rockets or M18A1 Miniguns, but three of these were lost in combat, and the fourth later crashed, thus ending the Chinook’s brief career as a genuine, helicopter gunship.

AH-6M Mission-Enhanced Little Bird (MELB): The Little Bird gunship evolved over time from the OH-6ACayuse scout helicopter of the Vietnam War era, using the basic, MD-530F fuselage, with the rounded canopy from an MD-500MG. Currently, the 1st Battalion of the 160th SOAR(A) has 22 of these aircraft assigned, updated by Boeing this year to Block 3.0 configuration. The AH-6Mis currently the smallest, quietest attack helicopter in the world.

The Little Bird is equipped with a FLIR Systems ZSQ-3(V)2 Attack FLIR sensor for nocturnal targeting (with a designating laser and image-intensified TV system), a new, Boeing, six-blade, composite, main-rotor assembly, and four-blade, canted “Quiet Knight” tail rotor for exceptionally quiet operations. There are four weapon stations beneath the stub wings, but the ammunition-feed system for the GAU-19/B Gatling gun unfortunately obstructs one inboard station, rendering it unusable.

Standard weapons load was formerly a pair of M134D-H Gatling guns with 3,000 rounds of ammunition per gun, and two seven-shot, M260 pods full of unguided, Hydra-70 rockets. But recent weapons improvements, as well as combat experience in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria, have changed the “standard” load to one GAU-19/B .50-caliber Gatling gun, usually on the left, outboard weapon station, with 600 rounds of ammunition, one M134D-H Gatling gun on the right, inboard station, with 3,000 rounds of ammunition, and a single M260 pod on the right, outboard station, filled either with Hydra-70 unguided rockets, or with new AGR-20B Advanced, Precision-Kill Weapon System-II (APKWS-II) laser-guided missiles, which are essentially Hydra-70 rocket bodies with laser guidance kits and movable wings installed. A recent photo demonstrates that allof the AH-6M’s weapons may be fired simultaneously, if desired.

Similar, armed, combat helicopters, all based upon the small, MD-530F platform, include the MD-530F Cayuse Warrior (with only two weapon stations, and no FLIR sensor), of which 30 were exported to Afghanistan, and six to Kenya. Jordan recently retired their six MD530F Little Bird gunships, with no direct replacements yet.

The AH-6i (“i” for “improved”), has been acquired by Saudi Arabia (36) and Thailand (8.) This is a special, export version of the AH-6M, with very similar armament and overall capabilities, including a FLIR sensor and four weapon stations. Jordan expressed interest in buying 18 aircraft in 2010, and again in 2014, but has not yet received the AH-6i. It has also been offered to Australia in the special operations role, where the Australian Army’s 6th Aviation Regiment desires 16 or more new gunships.

The new MD-530G Light Scout Attack Helicopter is also an export gunship, designed by MD Helicopters of Mesa, Arizona, instead of Boeing, incorporating a five-blade, main rotor, and a different array of weapons, including the FN RMP (Rocket and Machine-gun Pod) with Raytheon Talon 70mm laser-guided missiles. Malaysia received the first six examples, with a further six going to Lebanon.

On May 14, 2006, Major Matthew W. Worrell, age 34, was flying his AH-6M Little Bird gunship on a daylight, special operations raid near Yusifayah, south of Baghdad, Iraq, against an entrenched, enemy force of insurgents. As the official citation for his posthumous, Silver Star medal for heroism reads, “for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action…as an AH-6 pilot…Major Worrell continued to make successive assaults in support of the (U.S.) ground forces, without regard for his own personal safety, until his aircraft was shot down. His actions destroyed several enemy positions…Without Major Worrell’s courage and gallantry under hostile fire, the ground forces would have sustained significant casualties. He directly contributed to the successful execution of this direct-action mission.”Silver Star

Six months later, on the afternoon of November 27, 2006, Chief Warrant Officer 4 David F. Cooper, age 48, was flying his AH-6M Little Bird gunship on a special operations mission northwest of Baghdad, when his wingman was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade, lost his tail rotor, and had to crash-land in the desert below. This was just the beginning of a horrific chain of events that resulted in Cooper and his copilot landing and taking off again four times to battle scores of nearby, enemy insurgents with truck-mounted, ZPU-2 14.5mm heavy machine guns, mortars, rocket-propelled grenades, RPK machine guns, and AKM-series assault rifles.

Flying as low as five feet at times, Cooper relentlessly attacked the enemy forces with his twin, M134DGatling guns and 70mm rockets, while defending 20 American special operations soldiers on the ground, but he kept running low on fuel and ammunition, and had to land repeatedly beside his wingman’s downed helicopter to offload its ammunition and auxiliary fuel tank, aided by U.S. troops on-scene, under enemy fire the entire time.

He and his copilot valiantly flew again and again, destroying enemy trucks and a house that they were using for cover, while simultaneously sustaining multiple bullet strikes from the insurgent machine guns. The American troops on the ground were pinned down, outnumbered, and seriously outgunned, with only Cooper to rely upon for close air support.

Just as the tide of battle was beginning to turn, a U.S. Air Force F-16CM Fighting Falcon pilot, Major Troy L. “Trojan” Gilbert, was finally able to identify the enemy vehicles and strafe them from ultra-low level (less than 200 feet altitude) with his 20mm Gatling gun, but he crashed and died about four miles away, posthumously earning the Distinguished Flying Cross with “V” device for valor. Gilbert’s commanding officer stated that, “Troy fought like a tiger in battle that day.” His remains were finally discovered by a tribal leader in Iraq and sent back to the U.S. in 2016, and were buried in Arlington National Cemetery, Virginia.

After landing a fourth time, Cooper was finally out of fuel and ammunition, and a new team of AH-6Ms was inbound to relieve him. He was subsequently presented with the Distinguished Service Cross, the Army’s second-highest award for valor, and the highest-ever award for a Night Stalker. The citation read that, “his aggressive actions, complete disregard for his personal safety, and extreme courage under fire resulted in him single handedly repelling the enemy attack…If not for CW5 (he was also promoted one rank) Cooper’s action, the ground force would have become decisively engaged, and would certainly have taken heavy casualties.”

Less than three years later,
on September 14, 2009, al-Qa’ida-linked, al-Shabaab terrorist leader Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan was located by the CIA, traveling in a two-car convoy near Baraawe, Somalia. When the convoy stopped for breakfast, they were suddenly attacked by a pair of AH-6M Little Birds with GAU-19/A heavy machine guns, accompanied by two unarmed, MH-6M transports carrying U.S. Navy SEALs. Operation Celestial Balance was launched from a naval vessel offshore, and the result was that Nabhan and five more terrorists were killed, and his body was recovered for positive identification. Navy personnel referred to the menacing, black Little Birds as “Seabats,” an unofficial nickname. This was another typical, AH-6M gunship mission.

160th SOAR(A) personnel wear the standard, Army Aircrew Combat Uniform in the Operational Combat Pattern (A2CU-OCP), similar to MultiCam, since 2015, with suede combat boots or jump boots in Coyote Brown. As paratroopers, they also wear the Army’s maroon, Airborne beret when in garrison.

Why would special operations helicopter pilots (who are not infantrymen) need to be jump-qualified? According to noted author and U.S. Special Forces veteran Gordon L. Rottman, “The concept of building esprit de corps by ‘rites of passage’…for the purpose of unit cohesion, instilling aggressiveness, and enhancing unit prestige, (is) lost on many conventionally-minded soldiers…But it is another matter to voluntarily and frequently throw oneself, with all sorts of paraphernalia strapped on, out of a perfectly good aircraft, in full knowledge of the risk of injury or even death…(and) riding in a helicopter into a potentially ‘hot’ landing zone on active service is little different emotionally from waiting to make that vigorous exit over a (peacetime) drop zone.

“This pre-exposure to coping with combat stress and the control of fear makes parachute training well worth the effort in the interests of maintaining a peacetime, immediate-action force capable of swift transition…to the realities of combat…It is for these reasons that many nations maintain a parachute force, not because it is their principal means of delivery…They want troops who can face challenging odds with speed and flexibility, and sub-units capable of independent operations.”

Major General Aubrey S. “Red” Newman, former commander of the 34th Infantry Regiment in World War Two, and holder of the Distinguished Service Cross, the Army’s second-highest award for valor, added that, “Parachute jumping tests and hardens a soldier under stress in a way that nothing short of battle can do. You never know about the others. But paratroopers will fight. You can bet on that.”

Aircrew survival and self-defense weapons carried by 160thSOAR(A) pilots normally include the Colt M4A1carbine and Beretta M9 pistol. They will certainly be issued the new, SIG M17 (possibly) or M18 (more-likely) service handgun, or possibly the Glock-19, favored by U.S. Special Forces, Delta Force, the CIA, Navy SEALs, and other special operations units. They are also trained to use Russian-made, AK-47-series and AK-74-series assault rifles, in case these are the only weapons available, captured from enemy forces in a combat scenario.

One popular photo on the Internet, often purported to show a 160th SOAR(A) member carrying an HK416 carbine beside an MH-6M Little Bird, is actually of a Navy SEAL, as shown by his Navy Working Uniform Type II (NWU Type II) Desert-camo clothing, while the Army special ops pilot behind him wears the standard, Universal Camouflage Pattern (UCP-A2CU) uniform. So, there is currently no evidence that 160th SOAR(A) pilots carry the HK416.

ATO pilots also wear A2CU-OCP uniforms with brown suede boots, and most likely employ the same M4A1s (suppressed) and M9s (one man was photographed) or newer M18s, although it’s entirely possible that they may also use HK416 or SIG MCX carbines, and Glock-19 pistols, like the elite, Army Delta Force and Navy SEAL units that they support.

The 4th Special Forces Helicopter Regiment (4e RHFS) of the French Army Light Aviation service arms each of its pilots with an H&K USP9 pistol in 9mm, an H&K MP7A1 personal-defense weapon (PDW) in 4.6x30mm, andan HK416F Short carbine (with 11-inch barrel) in 5.56mm NATO, so those are the very-best-armed, military helicopter pilots in the world. And just this year, the French Army began issuing the brand-new, Glock-17 Gen. 5 tactical service pistol with Coyote-Brown frame, raised sights, extended and threaded barrel for fitting a suppressor, lanyard attachment, and optics-ready (Modular Optic System, or MOS) slide, certainly among the very finest Glock-17s ever produced.

Within the next two years, by Fiscal Year 2022, the U.S. Army plans to begin replacing its M4A1carbines and M249 squad-automatic weapons in 5.56mm with the Next-Generation, Squad Weapon (NGSW) and NGSW-Automatic Rifle (NGSW-AR) in 6.8x51mm. The three companies competing for this contract are SIG-Sauer, with a fairly-conventional, classic, M4-style design (they call it the MCX Spear) with a 13-inch barrel and 20-round magazine, using hybrid (part-brass, part-alloy, for lighter weight), .277 SIG Fury cartridges, General Dynamics, with a bullpup design using a 20-inch barrel for greater muzzle velocity, and composite-cased cartridges, and Textron Systems (Textron, Inc., also owns Bell Helicopters, which is now known as Bell Textron), using advanced, case-telescoped cartridges.

At this point, it seems that SIG-Sauer is the most-likely to win, because they already hold the Army contract for M17 and M18 service pistols, and their new Spear rifle is the least-radical candidate, and the simplest to produce. Special operations forces will certainly be high on the list to receive these powerful, new rifles as soon as they are available.

NSA 407MRH Lightning: The NorthStar Aviation (Bell) 407 Multi-Role Helicopter, or “Lightning” gunship, was derived from the OH-58DKiowa Warrior (Bell 406) armed scout helicopter, which was finally retired from active, U.S. Army service in 2017, using a basic, Bell 407GXP airframe (with eight-percent more engine power than the standard, GX model), heavily modified as an attack helicopter.

The Iraqi Army acquired two dozen desert-camouflaged, Bell IA-407 (“Iraqi Armed 407”) gunships, similar to the OH-58D, but with MX-15i FLIR sensors for nocturnal missions, and two weapon stations, usually equipped with one FN M3P heavy machine gun, and one pod of seven unguided, 70mm Hydra-70 rockets. They lost seven of these helicopters in combat action since then, and recently received five attrition replacements in 2019.

The very latest evolution of this successful series is produced by NorthStar Aviation (NSA) of Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates (UAE), and its American affiliate, NorthStar Aviation-USA of Melbourne, Florida, as the 407MRH Lightning, developed in 2011 and unveiled in 2014, with the actual construction taking place in Florida.

In 2011, NSA ordered 56 Bell 407GXs and GXPs from Bell Helicopters for possible conversion to 407MRHs. The Emirati (UAE) Joint Aviation Command received 30 examples of the nine-million-dollar Lightning in Medium Gunship Gray paint schemes, which saw considerable combat service in the Yemen Civil War, where one 407MRH crashed (due to a “technical fault,” not battle damage) in battle near Aden, Yemen, on June 13, 2016. Both pilots were killed in the incident. From 2015 to February 2020, this regional war resulted in 34 aircraft losses (including nine allied, jet fighters and 15 helicopters) and at least 39 drone losses. In addition, 18 unarmed, NorthStar/Bell 407GXs were provided to the UAE for flight training, totaling 48 helicopters delivered by November 2015.

Since that time, ATO has secretly operated at least four Bell 407GX (or GXP) unarmed scouts, according to detailed, satellite imagery of their home airfield, probably for plausibly-deniable, combat missions in Iraq, which flew 28 identic
al transports. Since their MD530F/AH-6 gunships had not been seen for quite some time (since 2003), it also seemed likely that ATO had at least a few Bell 407 armed gunships, with the NSA 407MRH being the most-probable candidate, and the U.S. branch of the company still possessing at least eight Bell 407GXPs in Florida for conversion to gunships.

The Lightning is slightly larger than an AH-6M (28-percent longer, with 7.5-percent wider main-rotor span), 10-percent more powerful, and slightly faster, but not nearly as large and bulky as an MH-60M Black Hawk, with the Bell four-blade, main-rotor assembly from the OH-58DKiowa Warrior scout helicopter. The avionics suite, since 2016, includes a Star SAFIRE 380-HLDc FLIR system (although the UAE uses the older, Star SAFIRE 260-HLD system), and Garmin GRA-55 radar altimeter for low-level flight.

Its standard armament consists of two GAU-19/B (the UAE uses the older, GAU-19/A model) .50-caliber Gatling guns, with 500 rounds of ammunition per gun in Cantine Armament magazines, and two M260 seven-shot pods full of either 70mm Hydra-70 unguided rockets, or AGR-20B APKWS-II laser-guided missiles. This provides more than double the firepower of an OH-58D or IA-407 gunship, and considerably more weaponry than the AH-6MLittle Bird. In addition, there is still room in the rear cabin for two passengers in rearward-facing seats, which is certainly not the case with most other gunships. M134D-H Gatling guns, DillonAero DAP-6 (M134D-H) gun pods, or AGM-114K Hellfire II missiles may also be employed.

In any case, whether ATO currently uses 407MRH Lightnings or some other Bell 407 armed variant, such as the similar Bell 407GT, their principal advantage is that none of the U.S. Armed Forces officially fly OH-58D or Bell 407 models, so the aircraft is not readily identifiable during covert operations as an American asset, yet it’s still a highly-capable, heavily-armed gunship for supporting special operations missions.

NorthStar Aviation is currently working on the NSA 429MRT (Multi-Role Twin) gunship concept, derived from the successful 407MRH, but using the basic airframe of the twin-engine, Bell 429 GlobalRanger instead. It’s expected to have essentially the same armament package as the 407MRHLightning.

Interestingly enough, the U.S. Army officially announced in December 2017 its intention to purchase up to 150 new helicopters over a five-year period, from 2019 to 2024, in an eclectic mixture that includes the Bell 407GX, Bell 412EPI, Bell 429, Bell 505 Jet Ranger X, and UH-1HHuey II conversions. These helicopters are not for Army service, however, but are destined for foreign military sales and “other government agencies” (State Department, CIA, and possibly ATO, etc.)

DillonAero (the manufacturer of the M134D-H 7.62mm Gatling gun) currently offers weapons-upgrade packages for the AH-6M Little Bird, 407MRH Lightning, and Bell 407GT, including the Mission-Configurable Aircraft System (MCAS-500AH or 407AH), with up to six weapon stations instead of the standard four, adding two wingtip, AGM-176BGriffin-B laser-guided missiles, 600-round ammunition magazines (instead of the standard, 500-rounders on the 407MRH) for .50-caliber weapons, and the brand-new, 503DGatling gun, designed to replace the .50-caliber, three-barrel, GAU-19/B weapon that is currently standard on both the AH-6M and 407MRH. The 503D is 21-percent lighter and 6.5-percent faster-firing than the already-lightweight GAU-19/B, which has been in service since 2012.

DillonAero is also producing a brand-new, five-barrel, .338 Norma Magnum Gatling gun for the U.S. Special Operations Command, firing at a rate of 2,500 rounds per minute (42 rounds per second.) This weapon could eventually replace the DillonAero M134D-H 7.62mm Gatling guns currently in use on special operations gunships, providing much longer range and hard-hitting firepower in a comparable-sized package.

In conclusion, today’s special operations gunships must be small, nimble, and rapidly deployable to hot spots and war zones around the world, while constantly evolving to incorporate the latest weapons and technologies available.

Warren Gray is a retired, U.S. Air Force intelligence officer with experience in joint special operations and counterterrorism. He served in Europe and the Middle East, earned Air Force and Navy parachutist wings, and four college degrees, including a Master of Aeronautical Science degree, and was a distinguished graduate of the Air Force Intelligence Operations Specialist Course, and the USAF Combat Targeting School. He is currently a published author and historian. You may visit his web site at: