Posted Tuesday, May 3, 2011, at 1:58 PM
There's still some confusion about exactly
flew to Abbotabad in the bin Laden raid: two helicopters or four? Black Hawks or Chinooks? But it's pretty clear which one didn't fly back out.
show the long tail of the abandoned, bombed-out copter, which rules out the tailless, dual-rotor Chinook. After worrying about a Black Hawk Down scenario, the armed forces ended up, in fact, down one
Specifically, it was probably model MH-60K, the special-operations version. Estimates of the price tag for the MH-60K vary. The Federation of American Scientists puts it at
in 1992 dollars, which would be $16.1 million
; Business Insider reported that an MH-60 "costs about
to produce." Wikipedia gives the price of a
as $44 million, citing a report of a
of four of them to Egypt, including "associated equipment and services."
Back in 1994, the General Accounting Office reported that the Congress had
of the MH-60K program, which had been divided between the United States Special Operations Command budget and the regular Army budget. In addition, because the price of procurement was less than $1 billion (in 1980 dollars), the MH-60K project did not count as a "major defense acquisition program," and so its life-cycle costs were not reported to Congress.
The creation of the MH-60K was part of an effort by Special Operations to recover from the debacle of the
in 1980, in which Sikorsky Sea Stallion helicopters broke down under desert flying conditions. But in the 1994 report, the GAO noted that the Army's reliability testing did not measure the helicopters' "ability to perform special operations missions." Instead, the Army simply graded the helicopters on whether or not they would be able to fly back to friendly territory, even if the mission were aborted because of other mechanical failures.
Regardless, by either performance standard, the Black Hawk failed this week. Thirty-one years after the Iranian disaster, in the most important special-operations mission since then, American forces still didn't have a helicopter they could trust to do the job. The raid succeeded despite the helicopter, not because of it.
What does the MH-60K cost? Whatever the figure is, double it—that should cover the price of a second helicopter to clean up after the first.