In the world of U.S. Special Operations, the 160th SOAR has a special place. Their pilots are fearless, and they can fly helicopters in and out of spaces where it would be hard to insert them with a crane. Like any good military plan, special warfare requires the proper use of forces at the appropriate time. Usually, this means that special operations forces teams must be prepared for lightning-quick reactions.
Operations behind enemy lines are not conducive to high-speed movement by ground forces. Thus they must find other methods to get to strike or surveillance points quickly and without the enemy’s knowledge. And the best way for the special operators to be inserted or extracted from the hostile area is the pilots of the 160th SOAR. Those pilots are the best in the world, capable of flying at any time, under any circumstances.
The Night Stalkers, how they dubbed themselves, are experts at flying black; with night-vision devices, they could move around on a moonless night like it was midday. Since Vietnam, the unit pilots had been involved in almost every U.S. ground combat operation. They also serve as the main ride for Tier 1 units.
The 160th SOAR (A) pilots fly in the three main helicopters: the Black Hawk, Chinook, and variants of the AH/MH-6 Little Bird attack helicopter. They also are starting to use more unmanned (UAVs) such as the Unmanned Little Bird MH-6X MELB /AH-6I and the armed drone MQ-1C Gray Eagle providing Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities that can fly and loiter on target for 25+ hours.
The 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (160th SOAR) uses specially modified rotorcraft and highly trained pilots to get special warfare teams to their mission through hostile territory or weather. Whatever the task, the 160th SOAR has adopted the name Night Stalkers and the motto, “Night Stalkers don’t quit!”
The 160th SOAR (A) is a subordinate component of the U.S. Army’s Special Operations Aviation Command. It consists of three battalions, two white and one “black” ( for classified missions ). The 1st and 2nd Battalions are located at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, while the 3rd is located at Hunter Army Airfield in Georgia. The 160th SOAR operates a group of highly modified aircraft in their missions. These aircraft are fitted with special avionics to fly at a low level at night or in inclement weather. Also, they have increased weapons and armor to enable them to survive the more challenging missions in enemy fire.
The Nightstalkers attached to support Operation Prime Chance became the first to engage and neutralize a target using Night Vision Google’s. The Nightstalkers were also the first Army aviators to be DLQ’d (Deck Landing Qualified), allowing them to operate from Navy ships (which they did in preparation for the canceled invasion of Haiti). Task Force 160 served as a provisional unit until 1986, when they were reformed as the 160th Special Operations Aviation Group (Airborne). In June of 1990, they have redesignated the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (Airborne).
Nightstalker members and aircraft have seen action worldwide in support of U.S. forces. They have deployed in Operations URGENT FURY and JUST CAUSE (Invasion of Panama) and Operation DESERT SHIELD and Operation DESERT STORM. In April of 1996, members of 3-160 (A) proved the skill and dedication that characterizes the members of the 160th SOAR. Within 12 hours of notification that they were to occur in Operation Assured Response (The evacuation of Americans in Liberia), the 160th SOAR had disassembled and readied for C-5B loading four MH-47D’s.
These aircraft were reassembled on-location and flew their first missions only 72 hours after they had first been notified. During the ten days they participated in the operation, these four helicopters worked in conjunction with 5 USAF MH-53J and transported more than 2,500 civilians to safety.
Although staffed by dedicated members and sporting the latest technology, the Nightstalkers have not been without loss. In 1993 two MH-60L Blackhawks were shot down over Mogadishu, Somalia, with the loss of three pilots and another becoming a bargaining chip. Two other Blackhawks were heavily damaged that day but managed to crash land back at their base. An MH-47E Chinook crashed in April 1996 after suffering electrical failure, with five 160th SOAR Members.
Operation Enduring Freedom
With the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks on September 11, 2001, the 160th SOAR went to war and began one of their most intensive and most extensive operations ever.
March 2, 2002, was a black day for the 160th SOAR and American special operations in general. Two MH-47Es from the 2nd Bat were inserting observation teams in the southern end of the Shah-e-Kot Valley. The helicopter was en route from Basilan Island to Mactan in the Philippines. The aircraft supported U.S. efforts to train and advise the Armed Forces of the Philippines in their efforts against global terrorism.
The following day, two more MH-47E’s, Razors 1 and 2, approached the mountaintop with a Ranger Quick-Reaction Force members. Dawn was beginning to break as Razor 1 began its landing from the south. Immediately heavy small-arms peppered the aircraft, and the door gunners began to return fire. Suddenly an RPG round hit the side of the plane, but unlike Razor 3 the night before, Razor 1 was too severely damaged to limp away and crashed on the mountain top, badly wounding many Rangers and both pilots.
To make matters worse, the right-hand door gunner, Sgt Phil Svitak, had been hit by AK-47 fire just before the crash and died soon. One Ranger QRF was shot and killed inside the aircraft, and two more died as they tried to exit and set up fighting positions. Only air support and the supreme effort of the other members of the QRF who’d advanced 2,000 vertical feet under fire after having been dropped off in a safer position below saved the crew and passengers of Razor 1.
With Night Stalker’s skills, operators like the Navy SEALs, D-Boys (CAG, or 1st SFOD-D), Rangers (75th Ranger Regiment), and others who might ride alongside those guys will be faster, more precise, and deadly. The Tier 1 operators have done hundreds, thousands of missions so far, inserted or extracted by the birds fled by Night Stalkers.
Operation Gothic Serpent (Mohamed Farah Aidid)
The mission’s primary objective was capturing faction leader Mohamed Farrah Aidid. The JSOC supervised the operation. On October 3, 1993, D-Boys and Rangers’ mixed team was inserted at the Bakara Market to capture two Aidid’s associates. The seventh raid in Mogadishu after six were conducted without any casualties. The first stage of the assault went well, then things suddenly changed.
Two Black Hawk helicopters operated by the Night Stalkers were shot down in the firefight. The initial operation of October 3, 1993, intended to last an hour, became an overnight standoff and rescue operation extending into the daylight hours of October 4, 1993.
The 160th SOAR AH-6 Little Birds pilots saved God knows how many U.S. soldiers lives in Operation Gothic Serpent, aka Black Hawk Down, by their all-night gun strafing runs and rocket pods whereby both Rangers and Delta were held up waiting hours for an armored convoy to come and rescue them from the downed helicopter crash site! They were able to do this by using only their Night Vision goggles.
This mission has become known as the Battle of Mogadishu, the Black Hawk Down incident, and Bakara Market.
Operation Neptune Spear (Osama Bin Laden)
The now-famous raid in Abbottabad, Pakistan, was launched from Afghanistan. The Night Stalkers fled five helicopters full of operators belonging to the JSOC (Seal Team 6, CIA SAS). The operation resulted in the death of Osama bin Laden. One MH-60L/M Blackhawk crash-landed in the courtyard with no casualties during the process.
Operation Kayla Mueller (Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi)
On October 26-27, 2019, the Night Stalkers inserted D-Boys (members of 1st SFOD-D or CAG) and Rangers in the Idlib province. Operation Kayla Mueller was ongoing. America’s finest warriors were after Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, then-leader and self-proclaimed “caliph” of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) terrorist organization. After a short standoff, he killed himself alongside two of his children, activating the suicide west.