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Osama bin Laden dead: hi-tech secret may end up in China

May 6, 2011


There are growing fears that top-secret stealth technology taken from the helicopter that crashed during the raid on the home of Osama bin Laden could be smuggled into China and cause a diplomatic row.

Osama bin Laden dead: sniffer dog was helicoptered into compound

Part of the damaged helicopter is seen lying in the compound Photo: AFP
It has become clear that US special forces used a previously unseen stealth helicopter for the mission in order to evade Pakistani radar or being heard on the final approach to the home of the al-Qaeda terrorist.

The American troops used thermite grenades to destroy the helicopter’s main body but its rear section was left intact and taken away by the Pakistani military soon after the night raid on Monday. It is feared that if Islamabad refuses a request from Washington for the return of the tail section that the issue could turn into a diplomatic rift.

Relations are already fraught after the Seal Team Six raid entered Pakistan airspace apparently without permission and after the government was accused in some quarters of “harbouring” bin Laden.

It is believed that US Special Operations Command decided to give the operation the greatest chance of surprise by using the untested helicopters, probably modified Blackhawks.

Neighbours have said they did not hear the helicopters until they were directly overhead at 1am.

It is likely that the operation was launched from a special forces base inside the Afghanistan border. Their destination, Abbottabad, would have been at the limit of their range, although Blackhawks can be refuelled mid-flight.

One of the aircraft crashed during the raid after it is thought the engines developed a problem. Experts believe that the shape and design of the aircraft is similar to that of the RAH 66 Comanche helicopter, a project that was scrapped after $7 billion [£4.26 billion] was spent on eight prototypes.

However, it now appears that the Americans might have adapted some of the technology and bolted it on to a Blackhawk. The modified tail boom would have reduced noise and appears to be covered in a hi-tech material used on stealth fighters.

Peter Felstead, the editor of Jane’s Defence Weekly, said analysts had carefully studied the pictures and concluded that it was a “stealth helicopter that we have not seen before”. “The Americans will be extremely keen to get the wreckage back but there will also be real concerns about the technology finding its way to China,” he said. “This kind of technology would be extremely useful to them at this point.”

Pakistan has a well-established military relationship with China, working jointly on the JF17 Thunder fighter project. The Chinese have exclusive access to a naval port.

The People’s Liberation Army is in the early stages of developing an attack helicopter that would benefit significantly from stealth technology. The Chinese are experts at reverse-engineering, using Western technology to develop its own armoured vehicles, warships and aircraft. It recently released photographs of an aircraft that closely resembled the US Air Force’s highly advanced F22 Raptor.

A spokesman for the American military said: “No operational details have been released about units or equipment.”

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