Pentagon Hires Outside Help to Train bin Laden Raid Pilots

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Paula Bronstein / Getty Images

The 160th's Night Stalkers fly modified versions of MH-60 Black Hawks, like these at Bagram air base in Afghanistan

The Army’s storied and supersecret Night Stalkers — the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (Airborne) — is tops when it comes to flying. Especially in the dark. While heavily armed.

“Although they’re not in the audience, I want to acknowledge the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment — the Night Stalkers — for their extraordinary service,” President Obama told the troops at Fort Campbell, Ky., last year. He visited the post to thank the Navy SEALs for killing Osama bin Laden — and the 160th for getting the SEALs to and from bin Laden’s Pakistani hideout, more or less safely — four days earlier.

So it came as a bit of a surprise on Nov. 28 to see that the U.S. Special Operations Command plans to spend up to $250 million over the coming decade to hire outside help to train the best helo pilots in the world.

The solicitation explains:

The Contractor shall provide … aviation and combat skills training; program integration, and flight support to the 160th  Special Operations Aviation Training Battalion (SOATB), the Technology Applications Program Office (TAPO), and the 160th  Special Operations Aviation Regiment (Airborne) (160th SOAR (A)). The 160th SOAR (A) supports worldwide contingency operations using a fleet of highly modified aircraft … The scope of effort can support newly deployed systems, for example Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) or new Mission Design Series Aircraft.

The anticipated task orders include, but are not limited to, the following areas:

a) Combat Skills Instruction and other … Unique Labor Categories (e.g. Ammo, Armor, Medic, etc.)

b) Flight and Simulator Training

c) Air Movement Specialists (formerly Loadmasters)

d) Training Development Support

e) Developmental Test Pilot, Maintenance Test Pilot, and non-Rated Crewmember support of aircraft modernization and/or developmental efforts

f) Development of Program of Instruction (POI) and follow on Instruction for SOA Unique requirements of Unmanned Aerial Systems.

The contractor will be working with MH-60, MH-47 and A/M-6 choppers, the backbone of the 160th’s fleet. (The 160th flew a pair of MH-60s and MH-47s on the bin Laden raid.) The military doesn’t want any of these contractors mistaken for the real thing. “Flight clothing shall be standardized for all contractor employees supporting this task order, and from a distance up to 30 feet away, easily identify the individual as a contractor,” it says. “Contractor employees supporting this task order shall not wear any combination of the current Army uniform.”

The winner of the contract is a company with the lusciously vague name of International Development & Resources, Inc. IDR is in an office condo park in Centreville, Va. — squeezed between Lee’s Piano and Dino and Deanie’s Therapeutic Massage, according to Google Maps, several miles south of Dulles airport. It is a “Small Disadvantaged-Woman-Owned Business,” its website says, run by a woman named May Hay. She also serves, the company says, as president of the Asian American Business Roundtable (whose website doesn’t tell us much) and chairman of the U.S. Small Business Alliance (which apparently doesn’t have a website).

Often such companies are small outfits that go on to hire, on a temporary basis, the personnel needed to fulfill the contract. “Pilots shall be graduate(s) of the DoD course for instructor pilots or maintenance test pilots,” the solicitation says, suggesting that the training will be largely, if not entirely, done by former U.S. military personnel.

U.S. Special Operations Command says contractors have been used in the past to screen aviators — through initial “Green Platoon” training — who want to join the elite 160th. “In order not to have to pull aviators out of line units to conduct Green Platoon training, the regiment uses contractors,” a spokesman adds. “The contractors are former unit members.” He adds that he doubts the full $250 million will be spent under the contract.

A phone call to the company was answered by a man for whom English was not his first language. When we said we wanted to speak to someone about this contract, he put us on hold. A pleasant piano solo played through the phone while Battleland waited. After a couple of minutes, he came back to the phone to say there was no one there to answer questions, but that someone might call back eventually.