AIN Blog: Iran Lassoes the Beast of Kandahar

 - December 19, 2011, 12:37 PM

I have been following with interest the developing story of how Iran has reportedly managed to capture some of the U.S.’s most sensitive surveillance technology, and I still have to shake my head at what a waste it was.

In 2009, the aviation world was abuzz over grainy pictures of a new unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) spotted on the runway at a U.S. airbase in Afghanistan. Dubbed “The Beast of Kandahar,” the mysterious aircraft—which looked like a miniature B-2 stealth bomber—spurred speculation as to its purpose and capabilities. As more information slowly leaked out,  the Air Force confirmed that the shadowy drone was actually the Lockheed Martin RQ-170 Sentinel, and among its alleged achievements was the conducting of aerial observations on Osama bin Laden’s lair in Abbottabad, Pakistan before the Seal team operation that killed him. Now it seems that all that secrecy was in vain as the jet-powered RQ-170 is poised to be rendered bare as a plucked chicken. Iran, which seems to have bagged one, is gleefully displaying its trophy to the world. As it continues to investigate and perhaps dissect the RQ-170 it somehow seemingly disabled and forced down during a reconnaissance flight over its territory, propaganda photos and video released from Iran show the bat-winged robotic craft looking intact but quite forlorn lying on what looks like a banquet table surrounded by anti-American posters (apparently they haven’t figured out how to deploy the landing gear yet).

According to several reports, Iran claims it was able to hack into and override the UAV’s guidance system and trick the craft into landing in Iran, thus explaining the apparent lack of damage. If so, the recovered reconnaissance drone becomes just the latest treasure chest of American military technology to be available for view to the highest bidder among America’s rivals. In addition to its advanced surveillance equipment, the Sentinel is also said to be clad in the latest stealth coatings aimed at cloaking its operations.

During the aforementioned Bin Laden raid, a heavily modified “low observable” Sikorsky Black Hawk helicopter crashed and had to be destroyed by U.S. forces as they departed the scene. The wreckage, recovered by Pakistani authorities incensed that the raid had been carried out unannounced under their noses, was returned to the U.S. several weeks later, most likely after it had been thoroughly picked over by other countries.

The Iran situation reminds me of another time the U.S. suffered a black eye: the U-2 incident of 1960 in which a CIA spy plane (which, ironically enough, took off from Pakistan) was shot down by the Soviets over Mother Russia. The pilot failed to activate the aircraft’s self-destruct system before he ejected, and as a result the Soviets were able to recover it largely intact, quickly ringing false any U.S. assertions that the mission was a weather surveillance flight that strayed off course. The Russians kept the top-secret U-2 and its surveillance equipment but two years later swapped pilot Francis Gary Powers for one of their own spies, captured earlier by the U.S.

That probably won’t happen in this case. Despite requests from President Obama to return the drone (which were met with derision from Tehran), unless/until Iran synthesizes its newly gained technology, builds UAVs of its own and sends them winging over Washington, we won’t have anything to capture and trade with them.




Really, Curt.

Do you really think the Iranians are smart enough to even have a clue as to what was dropped on them? Do you really think they were able to "bring it down" with their own technology? Since their focus is on an atomic weapon to "bring down" Israel, I REALLY think this is all a propaganda jamboree for them and nothing else. Obviously, our guys somehow lost contact with it and it strayed away and ran out of fuel over Iran.

If the "skunk works" developed this thing, I think you can be assured that they made it so it could not be readily dissected and discovered. I would not be at all surprised if the thing has already self destructed and took out all who were around it when it did.

Keep in mind that this thing is serious technology. This is not a U-2, which, by the way, we still fly and collect intelligence with! While not in the Military, I have no doubt that many safeguards are built in to this type of plane to make sure that no one can access it easily. Even sold to the highest bidder, I believe that it's long gone by little bits and pieces and a big, black hole in the ground!

Hello Doug,

Thanks for your comment. While we don’t know for certain how or even if  Iran did manage to bring down an RQ-170, I haven’t seen any comments from the U.S. military refuting it, and the pictures and video seem to show a rather intact looking UAV. Whether its guidance system was hacked by an unfriendly nation, or if its controller sitting perhaps thousands of miles away spilled a diet soda into its control keyboard remains to be seen. As to the folks at the Skunk Works building in security measures to prevent its secrets from being viewed by unauthorized eyes-perhaps it did take out an entire building when they tried to look up its skirts , but such safeguards don’t always work the way they are planned, and one would think that the military, if they could have, would have blown it to bits before Iran could use it as propaganda rather than after. Showing off a few mangled pieces would surely have had less impact than their display of an allegedly complete airframe. Back in the U-2 case, pilot Francis Gary Powers caught some grief for failing to destroy his crippled U-2 on his way out of the cockpit (some also faulted him for failing to take his cyanide pill like a good little spy).  The condition of the Sentinel-judging by the pictures, which if authentic, lends credence to the story that it made a gentle landing rather than plummeting down from altitude.

It going some days from the story and the new story is the story of iran's Airplane On Isreal.
What do you think now?

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