Here’s What That Commando Laden UH-60 Black Hawk Was Doing Whipping Around Chicago

Over the last eight hours, I have been bombarded with tips and questions regarding a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter buzzing around Chicago with fully kitted commandos hanging out of its doors and deploying on rooftops around the city. Some people were alarmed by what they were seeing and wondered if there was a crisis taking place. Others were thrilled as the special operators fast-roped from the helicopter and took up positions along high rise rooflines. A couple were even wondering if this was another Transformers movie being filmed in the city. I can definitely assure you that is not the case and that there is nothing to worry about. But that doesn’t make the spectacle any less interesting. 

What Chicagoans have been seeing is a training operation. I talked to the Chicago Police Department about the sightings and they told me that they were given notice that the drills would commence but would not tell me anything else, such as who was training. But it really didn’t seem like they knew if it was specifically law enforcement or military. But that’s beside the point. It is an exercise and it is not part of any operational mission. I have also reached out to the Illinois Military Department and National Guard for more details, but I have yet to hear back. 

The fact of the matter is that this type of thing really is not that unique—at least not on a national level. I have posted in depth before about urban terrain helicopter assault training operations that occur all across the United States on a fairly consistent basis. In fact, it has happened in Chicago before, including in 2012:


These exercises almost always involve helicopters from the elite 160th Special Operations Air Regiment (SOAR), better known as the Night Stalkers and Navy SEALs, Delta Force, or other top-tier counter-terror special ops units. During these unique military drills, which always draw local ire and a flurry of conspiracy theories, most of the action starts around sunset and goes late into the night. But in this case, broad daylight was the setting and it seems pretty clear that this wasn’t a Department of Defense affair. Instead, it looks like a federal operation: 

The UH-60M Black Hawk photographed and filmed all over Chicago does not appear to belong to the United States Army. The configuration of its antennas is unique and it does not have any Army titles or serials on it. Over the last decade, a number of UH-60s of various sub-types have been transferred from the DoD to federal agencies like the Department of Justice. The DOJ has also bought UH-60Ms by piggybacking the Army’s buys. This appears to be one of those aircraft. 

As for the operators themselves, their kit looks top notch. Note the four-tube, wide field of view night vision goggles made famous by the DEVGRU/SEAL Team Six mission to kill or capture on Osama Bin Laden. These are still somewhat rare pieces of equipment.

The unit that put on this awesome, albeit unexpected display likely belongs to the Department of Justice’s Critical Incident Response Group (CIRG), which includes the vaunted FBI Hostage Rescue Team, also known as HRT. Now in its 35th year of existence, HRT is the nation’s top law enforcement counter-terrorism direct action unit. 

HRT has been deployed overseas, including as part of Joint Special Operations Command missions, but it’s best known for being on call to respond quickly to very high-risk, very high-threat scenarios. There is also the FBI’s SWAT Teams that are assigned to all 56 field offices which CIRG’s SWAT operations oversee. So the Chicago field office’s SWAT Team is probably involved in this training event as well. 

FBI SWAT from the Tampa field office show off their skills alongside US Special Operations Command operators at a demonstration in Tampa Harbor during SOFIC 2018. , USAF Master Sergeant Barry Lou

CIRG maintains and operates a range of aviation assets, in particular, six UH-60Ms just like this one, the first of which was delivered in 2009. CIRG also provides a slew of other important functions, like explosive ordnance disposal (EOD), hazardous devices disruption (disarming nukes and countering WMD in general), crisis negotiations, intelligence dissemination, ground and air surveillance, security management for major events, crisis negotiations and much more. Basically, they are the guys and gals that prepare and are ready to literally confront the worst mankind has to offer.

The need for this type of training is straightforward. Mock villages in remote locales cannot substitute for the incredible complexities of an actual dense urban environment complete with skyscrapers. As the Pentagon is moving to prepare to fight increasingly in dense urban locales, which they call ‘megacities,’ so are their federal counterparts. In fact, the terrorist’s maleficent playbook pushes them to target these areas over any other. As such, this training is absolutely essential and can’t be replicated anywhere else. 

So if you find yourself in a position to watch these warriors practicing their deadly arts in person then consider yourself very lucky, it is a truly rare sight. 

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