FBI’s Elite Hostage Rescue Team Is Now Flying Gloss Black UH-60 Helicopters
The FBI’s UH-60 Black Hawks have only been seen previously in the US Army’s standard green paint scheme.
Pictures have emerged online of a UH-60 Black Hawk belonging to the Federal Bureau of Investigation's elite Hostage Rescue Team, or HRT, wearing a previously unseen gloss black paint job. HRT has at least six Black Hawks, which it acquired through U.S. Army contracts, examples of which had previously been seen wearing that service's standard overall green scheme.
The FBI's Field Office in Little Rock, Arkansas, posted the pictures of the black-painted Black Hawk on Twitter on March 4, 2021, as part of a string of Tweets promoting working for the Bureau. It's not clear where or when the picture was taken or if the armed agents in full tactical gear that are also in the photograph are all members of HRT.
HRT is a top-tier domestic direct-action counter-terrorism unit, but the FBI also has lower-tier Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) teams within its field offices and at its headquarters in Washington, D.C. HRT and the FBI's SWAT Operations Unit (SOU), which oversees all of the Bureau's SWAT activities, are part of the Critical Incident Response Group (CIRG). CIRG also includes various other units, including elements tasked with explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) and even disarming or otherwise "rendering safe" nuclear weapons and dirty bombs. One of the individuals seen in the picture that the Little Rock Field Office posted online has an "EOD" patch on their rucksack.
CIRG also has intelligence and crisis negotiation components, among various others. The group, as a whole, is on call to help respond to various potential major contingencies.
When it comes to the aviators who fly the FBI's Black Hawks, "the pilots are required to adhere to strict rotation to be able to provide 24 hours, 7 days/week, and 365 day-per-year response capability," according to a press release from Oak Grove Technologies, which won a contract last year to provide pilots for the Bureau's UH-60 fleet. "Under the CIRG program, pilots are required to be available to depart within a very short period of time once notified. Along with preventing WMD [weapons of mass destruction] activity, they’re often flying into harm’s way to perform inserts and/or extractions in potentially contaminated areas, formation flights, and support MEDEVAC [medical evacuation] emergencies."
It's not clear how many of the FBI's UH-60s, which you can read about in more detail in this past War Zone piece, may now be wearing this new black paint scheme. As already noted, the Bureau bought at least six UH-60M variants via Army contracts, starting in 2009. The Department of Justice (DOJ) had also obtained a number of older model UH-60s via the Army's Black Hawk Exchange and Sales Team (BEST) program. It's unclear if all of those went to the Bureau or if other federal law enforcement agencies under DOJ are now operating some examples, as well.
At least one of the FBI's Black Hawks had been seen as recently as 2019 still wearing a green paint job and other Army-style markings. Similar examples had been seen in use during realistic urban training exercises in Chicago, Illinois, and Miami, Florida, the previous year.
The glossy paint job does definitely give this particular helicopter a distinct non-military look and could be the result of a desire to avoid any confusion with Army Black Hawks. With this in mind, it's worth noting that this black paint scheme is reminiscent to a degree of the ones worn by Black Hawks belonging to U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP). However, CBP UH-60s also have a high-visibility gold stripe that runs along both sides of the fuselage and up the tail.
Of course, while it might now look less like a military helicopter, it's hard not to at least bring up how this UH-60 might look in the context of long-standing and entirely unsubstantiated conspiracy theories involving shadowy U.S. government entities conducting ultra-secret domestic activities using "black helicopters." Realistic urban training exercises, which provide valuable opportunities to practice in representative real-world environments for top-tier U.S. military special operations and law enforcement tactical units, but are often conducted at night with little public notice, already routinely prompt conspiratorial speculation.
If gloss black UH-60s do now appear overhead somewhere in the future, we now know that one definite possibility is that these are Black Hawks belonging to one of the U.S. government's most elite counter-terrorism units.
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