Our First Look At Ukraine’s UH-60 Black Hawk In Action
Ukraine’s Defense Intelligence directorate says the Black Hawk is better than the old Soviet helicopters it uses, and it wants more.
Ukraine’s Defense Intelligence directorate says it is making good use of a U.S.-made UH-60A Black Hawk helicopter that it has acquired. The directorate says that the Black Hawk, the only one of its type in the country currently, offers important performance advantages over its Soviet-designed Mi-8 Hip and Mi-24 Hind series helicopters, and it is pushing to get more of them. That a UH-60A was in Ukrainian service first emerged in February, as you can read more about in The War Zone's initial reporting on the helicopter.
What is formally called the Main Directorate of Intelligence of the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine offered new details about the UH-60A in an official news item posted on its website yesterday. This followed another recent report over the weekend from ABC News in the United States on this specific helicopter.
"In recent days, in one area of the front, special forces units of the Defence Intelligence took part in regular training on interaction with the Black Hawk multi-purpose helicopter," according to the Defense Intelligence directorate's release. "The special forces practiced the landing of combat groups on the battlefield, evacuation, disembarking from landing ropes, as well as night flights."
An accompanying video, seen below, shows the UH-60A and its crew, together with special operators, practicing insertion and extraction techniques, including rappelling down from the hovering helicopter.
The Black Hawk was previously owned by Ace Aeronautics, LLC in the United States, where it carried the U.S. civil registration code N60FW. This is something the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has now confirmed with the addition of a "SOLD TO UKRAINE" note in the archived entry for N60FW in its online registration database.
The Defense Intelligence directorate's video confirms that the Black Hawk is still wearing the blue-and-black paint civilian-style scheme that it had when Ace Aeronautics operated it. Ukrainian forces have added the country's national insignia to the outside of the engine nacelles, painted representations of the national flag on the main cabin doors, and applied white identification stripes to the tail boom.
"The helicopter impresses with its reliability, ease of operation and combat survivability," according to the news item from the Defense Intelligence Directorate, quoting an unnamed flight engineer. "According to him, the Ukrainian crews mastered the Black Hawk extremely quickly – in a matter of hours."
"Having experience operating the Mi-8 and Mi-24, we flew on the Black Hawk on the first day we received it. We just sat down and made the flight," it adds, citing a pilot, who is also not named. The pilot, referred to only by the callsign "Maestro," and is said to be the first person trained to fly the UH-60A, is mentioned later in the piece, but it's not clear if this is the same individual who made the comparison to the Mi-8 and Mi-24.
Regardless, this is in line with what Defense Intelligence director personnel told ABC News' Ian Pannell recently.
"What the pilot says, is that flying the Black hawk compared to the old Soviet [helicopter types in Ukrainian service]... is like the difference between trying to drive a truck and driving a Maserati sports car," Pannell said in a segment, seen in full below, from a report he recently did from Ukraine. "They say it gives them much more flexibility, they can get many more troops in, it's much easier for troops to get on and off the helicopter, and to fly the combat missions."
"According to Ukrainian defenders, the Black Hawk is many times more maneuverable than the Mi-8, much better in maneuverability, and wins in terms of horizontal flight speed. The helicopter is capable of flying continuously for about three hours and can easily cover a distance of more than 600 kilometers [approximately 372.8 miles]," the Defense Intelligence Directorate's news story says. "It takes 3-4 seconds for the helicopter to unload a group of 12 fighters and evacuate another group from the battlefield."
It is worth pointing out that the even more modern and capable variants of the UH-60 family are not in any way direct analogs to the Mi-8 Hip series of armed transport helicopters, let alone Mi-24 Hind attack helicopters with their secondary troop-carrying capabilities. The U.S. military has previously said that older Black Hawk variants are inferior in a number of key respects to Hips, specifically, including in terms of maximum payload capacity and hot-and-high performance. You can read more about these assessments, which were made in the context of evaluating aid to the now-defunct Afghan Air Force, here.
It is also interesting to note that the U.S. government has already turned over a number of Mi-17 variants of the Hip that previously belonged to the Afghan Air Force to Ukraine's military.
In addition, the Defense Intelligence directorate's sole UH-60A appears to still be in a largely commercial configuration. There is no indication that it has dispensers for decoy flares or radar-confusing chaff that are found on military Black Hawk variants around the world, as well as Ukraine's Hips and Hinds. It does not appear to have any other obvious self-protection features, either.
Ukraine's Defense Intelligence directorate also notes that "this type of helicopter is designed to fire guided and unguided Hellfire missiles." While it is true that Black Hawks can be armed with Hellfires and a host of other weapons, there is no indication that any steps have been taken so far to arm this particular UH-60A.
All this being said, the Black Hawk's comparatively high speed and maneuverability could offer useful advantages in various contexts, including being able to quickly insert or extract personnel from a host of different locations. Ukraine's Defense Intelligence directorate has, among other things, been conducting and otherwise facilitating demanding cross-border raids into Russia where this increased performance might be valuable, even with any additional risks to the crew.
The skies over Ukraine are already packed with air defense threats, including various types of shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles, also known as man-portable air defense systems, and other short-range air defenses (SHORAD). Both sides have suffered significant losses to their helicopter fleets. Ukrainian and Russian helicopter crews now almost exclusively operate at extremely low altitudes to help mask their movements and otherwise avoid their opponents. Sometimes it's still not enough.
You can read more about the risks that Ukrainian helicopter units are already taking on a regular basis in order to fly important missions, including in support of the Defense Intelligence directorate, here.
There seems to be a clear interest on the part of the Defense Intelligence directorate to acquire more Black Hawks, as well as other more modern Western helicopters.
"Over the past year, the level of [skill of] our pilots has grown enormously. Currently, Ukraine can easily receive about a hundred multi-purpose Black Hawk helicopters, about 50 Apache attack helicopters, as well as about 40-60 Chinook cargo helicopters," the pilot known as "Maestro" claimed, according to the Defense Intelligence directorate's news release. "We could receive such a number in minimal time for the retraining of our pilots."
This echoes a call in February from Kyrylo Budanov, head of the Defense Intelligence directorate, to acquire Apaches, as well as A-10 Warthog ground attack jets, from the United States. Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov publicly pushed back against the pleas for A-10s in his own comments about his country's need for additional combat aircraft in March. This all followed reports that Budanov was in line to succeed Reznikov, which did not come to pass.
"At the moment, the United States – the [U.S.] State Department – refuses to allow the Ukrainians to buy them," ABC News' Ian Pannell said in his recent report. "So the pilot and his crew have essentially had to crowd fund to raise the $6 million dollars in order to buy it [the ex-N60FW]."
It's unclear what exactly this means given that Ukrainians have clearly been able to purchase one UH-60A on the commercial market in the United States. The War Zone has reached out to The State Department for more information.
No matter what, at least from what Ukraine's Defense Intelligence directorate has had to say so far, even the one Black Hawk has been a very welcome addition to its existing helicopter fleets. The experience that its personnel are gaining with the type now could be vital if it ultimately acquires more.
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