Czech Commando Helicopters Get New Miniguns
The weapons are part of U.S. effort to strengthen Prague’s special forces
With some assistance from the U.S. Army, helicopters assigned to the Czech Republic’s Special Operations Air Tactical Unit have gotten some new guns.
In 2014, a team from the Army’s Prototype Integration Facility at Redstone Arsenal helped install “defense suppression weapons” on seven Czech Mi-171Sh choppers. The transports also got infrared cameras, new radar, ropes for commandos to slide down and extra fuel tanks.
In the past, this office worked on two special UH-60M Black Hawks to ferry King Abdullah II of Jordan, and armed Bell 407 helicopters for the Iraqi military.
“[The] Prototype Integration Facility was designed to meet the most compelling and urgent needs of the U.S. government and its allies,” explained an Army public affairs specialist. The official said the weapons were a “gun system,” but could offer no specifics.
However, brand new, fast-firing Miniguns, along with the other improvements, are clearly visible in recent pictures of the helicopters. These modern, electrically-driven Gatling guns can spit out up to 6,000 bullets every minute.
There’s evidence the Pentagon has some experience supplying these weapons to allies. Two years ago, video footage appeared online—shown above—that depicted American troops test firing one of the six-barreled machine guns from a similar chopper in Afghanistan.
Washington has supplied these Russian-made helicopters to Afghanistan, and others U.S. allies. Many American partners used to be clients of the Soviet Union, and have more experience with Moscow’s arms catalog.
But for both U.S. and Czech commandos, the distinctly American weapons were an obvious choice.
The ground combat branch’s famous 160th Special Operation Aviation Regiment uses the same guns on their specially equipped MH-60 Black Hawks and MH-47 Chinooks. These unique aircraft have powerful video cameras, advanced radars and other gear.
Like the Czech aviation unit, the 160th’s primary mission is to shuttle special operators around the battlefield on complex, secretive missions. And Prague’s elite troops, the 601st Special Forces Group, likely knew exactly what they wanted after working with their American counterparts overseas.
Between at least 2003 and 2004, the 601st’s specialized soldiers fought in Iraq, according to their official Website. For more than a decade, the Czech commandos have worked with foreign special operators in Afghanistan.
“USSOF has a long standing positive relationship with the Czech Republic in Afghanistan,” a public affairs officer for NATO’s International Security Assistance Force told War Is Boring in 2014. The acronym refers to U.S. Special Operations Forces, such as Army Special Forces and Navy SEALs.
That relationship apparently became very close, too. In April 2014, the Pentagon’s special operations headquarters in Germany announced it wanted to move the 601st away from using American helos in Afghanistan.
“U.S. support for Czech SOF will facilitate its ability to operate independently and without embedded U.S. forces,” according to a so-called “sources sought” notice. The federal government sends out these messages when it wants to know if private companies can provide certain goods or services.
At the time, the Pentagon was specifically interested in training more of Prague’s pilots to fly at night. “The Czech Republic does not currently have a full squadron trained to support NATO Special Operations missions during day, at night or while utilizing night vision goggles,” the document explains.
The Pentagon expected that upgrading the Czech Republic’s more capable transport choppers would help make Prague’s commandos more lethal in the long run. Now, the new upgrades might come in handy closer to home.
The former Warsaw Pact nation has been a member of NATO for more than 15 years. Prague’s elite troops train regularly with their new allies.
In September 2014, Czech commandos took part in a practice sessions run by U.S. Special Operations Command in Europe. Prague’s aircrews even got to show off their newly-armed helicopters during the exercise, named Jackal Stone.
SOCOM holds the event to check out how well American forces might work with their European comrades in an actual crisis. And at the moment, Russian troops and their proxies are battling Ukrainian forces—despite an internationally-brokered peace deal.
Washington and her NATO allies are still figuring out what sort of aid they want to send to Kiev—which is not a member of the alliance. NATO could decide to dispatch commandos to train Ukrainian soldiers.
Still, there’s no indication that Washington or any other member of the alliance will send troops to take part in the actual fighting in Ukraine’s disputed eastern regions.
But whatever happens, Czech commandos are no doubt thrilled to have their own Minigun-toting helicopters.