FEB 21, 2023
An apparent former U.S. Army UH-60A has appeared in Ukrainian military service, with the shadowy Defense Intelligence directorate.
The Ukrainian Armed Forces have received what appears to be their first example of the ubiquitous S-70/H-60 Black Hawk series helicopter. It looks to now be in service with the aviation branch of Ukraine’s Defense Intelligence directorate, which has led a number of daring missions in the course of the ongoing war with Russia, including cross-border helicopter raids. The Black Hawk design is more modern than many previous helicopter donations to Ukraine and could also pave the way for future deliveries.
A story posted on its website today by the Main Directorate of Intelligence of the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine (to give it its full title) includes two photos of a Black Hawk series helicopter in a hangar in Ukraine. One photo shows a two-person armed helicopter crew posing in front of the aircraft. Another head-on view of the Black Hawk shows it alongside a Ukrainian Mi-24 Hind, with another two-person crew as well as a four-person team of apparent special operations troops.
A machine translation of the accompanying text reads as follows: “The Defense Intelligence aviation of Ukraine continues to work at the forefront of the defense of our country. Reconnaissance pilots have just returned from another combat mission, the combat helicopters significantly increase the capabilities of the special units of the Main Directorate of Intelligence and the effectiveness of special operations. Pilots of the [Main Directorate of Intelligence] continue to destroy the enemy on all areas of the front.”
While not explicit on this point, the wording suggests that the Black Hawk and Mi-24 are new additions to the directorate’s regular fleet. In the past, it’s understood to have used Ukrainian Army Aviation helicopters (primarily Soviet and Russian-made Mi-8 and Mi-17 Hips) on an ad-hoc basis. Having organic aviation assets is clearly a major advantage, if only in terms of the availability of aircraft for its demanding missions.
The Black Hawk shown is painted in a distinctive gloss black scheme with broad blue and silver cheatlines that extend around the lower part of the fuselage, as well as up and over the engine housing. Prominent Ukrainian roundels and national flags are also applied.
Overall, the scheme appears to be similar if not identical to one seen previously on a UH-60A operated in the past by Ace Aeronautics, LLC, a U.S. company headquartered in Guntersville, Alabama. Ace Aeronautics offers a range of services, primarily based around avionics upgrades, including for the S-70/H-60 family, as well as experimental flight testing, training, and maintenance, repair, and overhaul (MRO).
One Ace Aeronautics UH-60A in particular, which appears on the company website, and in the video below, appears to prove an almost exact match with the example In Ukraine. In the past, it was operated with the U.S. civil registration number N60FW, which the Federal Aviation Administration says is still active. Nicknamed “Blue,” this helicopter formerly served with the U.S. Army and had the serial number 80-23455. Among Ace Aeronautics’ services is purchasing UH-60As from the U.S. Army and offering them for sale after they have been repainted and reworked to meet customer specifications.
A background search on N60FW suggests that it was offered for sale until around 11 months ago when its listing was removed. Its last available recorded flight was over Georgia, last November 28, at which point it was still listed as being owned by Ace Aeronautics. While the paint scheme of the Ukrainian helicopter clearly resembles that of N60FW, it remains possible, of course, that this is a different airframe painted in the same livery, perhaps also by Ace Aeronautics, which offers bespoke respray services. Moreover, similar civilian-style paint schemes for Black Hawks are not entirely uncommon.
Other UH-60As that Ace Aeronautics has acquired in the past include one with a red cheatline instead of a blue one and an all-black one with the registrations N60DK and N451VK, respectively.
As far as we can make out from the two available photos, the UH-60A now operated by Ukraine’s Main Directorate of Intelligence does not feature any obvious mission modifications, such as electro-optical sensors, weaponry, or self-protection systems. On the other hand, the nature of the platform makes it an ideal fit, were any such additions to be made in the future. Indeed, in the past, Ace Aeronautics used N60FW as a testbed for a possible weaponized configuration that included a stub pylon on one side of the fuselage fitted with an externally-mounted Minigun system and two mock Hellfire air-to-ground missiles.
If the Black Hawk that the Ukrainian Armed Forces has received is indeed N60FW or one of its cousins, it would then likely come along with a number of internal improvements over the original UH-60A design. This would likely include a Garmin G5000H cockpit, previously seen installed on N60FW. This is a full glass cockpit with touchscreen controls that is much more advanced than the analog instruments found in Ukraine’s Mi-8 and Mi-24.
One item that is certainly now missing, compared with previous configurations of N60FW, is the sensor turret that was fitted below the nose, as recently as last year. However, the nature of this turret mounting, which was developed by Ace Aeronautics, means that it should be easy enough to install a sensor turret in the future, and it’s compatible with turrets from different avionics providers, including L3Harris WESCAM and FLIR Systems.
We have reached out to both Ace Aeronautics, as well as to Ukrainian sources, for more details of this apparent helicopter transfer, as well as how it might be supporting Defense Intelligence directorate missions more generally. There have been no previous reports about any transfers of Black Hawk series helicopters to Ukraine, or plans to do so.
We have, in the past, reported extensively upon the work of Ukraine’s Defense Intelligence directorate, including its Shaman Battalion of special operations troops that infiltrate into Russian territory to strike key targets.
“What is really important is that we have great helicopter pilots,” one of the Shaman Battalion told The War Zone, in an interview published in July last year. “They’re the guys who have very precise, very outwritten plans that consider all necessary details. They’re super pilots. They’re strong, intelligent, and very highly motivated.”
The unit assignments of these helicopter pilots are not entirely clear. In the past, they likely have consisted of Ukrainian Army Aviation crews with relevant training for special forces missions, although with at least one each of the Black Hawk and Mi-24 now seemingly part of the Ukrainian Main Directorate of Intelligence, it very likely has its own aircrews, as well, perhaps having been transferred from the army.
We have also reported on one particular Main Directorate of Intelligence mission, involving as many as 16 Mi-8 helicopters, used to resupply the defenders of the Azovstal steel plant. In the face of dense Russian air defenses and enemy aircraft, two of those helicopters were destroyed, Brig. Gen. Kyrylo Budanov, the head of the directorate, told The War Zone in an exclusive series of interviews, which you can find here and here.
It’s clear that the directorate makes significant use of helicopters, and the nature of its missions means that modern and reliable equipment is of paramount importance.
The Black Hawk is already a proven special forces support platform, most famously through its work with the U.S. Army Special Operations Command. Of course, the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (SOAR), also known as the “Nightstalkers,” flies much more heavily modified MH-60M Black Hawks, among other types of helicopters.
Whether Ukraine’s apparent new UH-60A, whatever its configuration might be, remains a one-off, or if other examples are already in Ukraine, is unclear for now. The delivery of even one Black Hawk is still a significant development for Ukraine’s military aviation capabilities. While around 40 helicopters have previously been supplied as military aid by Kyiv’s allies, up until now, these have been almost all Soviet-era aircraft, primarily Mi-8/17 and Mi-24 types, rather than more modern Western types. So far, the only other Western military helicopter donations have comprised a handful of former U.K. Royal Navy Sea Kings for the Ukrainian Navy.
With Ukraine keen to adopt more Western and NATO-standard equipment across its armed forces, the Black Hawk is an obvious choice for the modernization of its rotary-wing fleets. As the most widely used Western military helicopter in its class, there are plentiful S-70/Black Hawk airframes available from both military stocks as well as from third-party suppliers like Ace Aeronautics. Support for the type exists globally, including extensively in Europe.
With that in mind, the single uniquely painted UH-60A now residing in a hangar somewhere in Ukraine could well be the start of a more extensive effort to bolster the country’s rotary capabilities and kickstart the process of slowly replacing the current mainly Soviet-era fleet. At the very least, it indicates that the Black Hawk will become a primary mount for Ukraine’s Defense Intelligence directorate.
UPDATE: 4:10 P.M. EST—
A video that appears to show Ukraine’s new Black Hawk helicopter in flight has now emerged online, though its provenance remains unconfirmed.
“We have reached out to both Ace Aeronautics, as well as to Ukrainian sources, for more details of this apparent helicopter transfer, as well as how it might be supporting Defense Intelligence directorate missions more generally. There have been no previous reports about any transfers of Black Hawk series helicopters to Ukraine, or plans to do so.”
I’ve first heard about Black Hawk/s being in Ukraine just today. I also never heard or read anything about them being given to Ukraine. Who’s the donor? The US government? Ace Aviation? Someone else?
At any rate, I’m glad that this chopper is in Ukraine and I hope more will come … or are already there. Apaches and Chinooks would also be very nice to have!
Perhaps repurposed from Yanukobytch or Medvedfuk?
We have reached a point of no return. Either we arm Ukraine to the teeth or we will go downe. Even if Crimea is unrealistic to be returned, the entire Donbas can be liberated using brute force if the necessary weapons will be given to Ukraine. Let the invaders BURN!
I’d seen videos of a new model of helicopter that the United States Army is planning to replace the Black Hawks with. I saw the newer design in a promotional video, and don’t remember whether they had a model name. But they were shaped a lot like tadpoles, of which the tail rotor was facing into the direction of the helicopter’s flight path, not facing to the side like the tail rotors of most other helicopters. It looked like it would have a much more powerful thrust for the forward motion this way.
If the US Army is starting to decommission its Black Hawks, then perhaps the promotional video really did have the next future design.
A very SWEEEEET looking bird! Hope the first of many!