The U.S. Air Force has finally acknowledged the existence of a stealthy air vehicle operating over Afghanistan, after another photo of the so-called “Beast of Kandahar” was published on the French Web site Secret Defense. Designated the RQ-170 Sentinel, the tailless flying wing was designed by the Lockheed Martin Skunk Works, and is providing reconnaissance and surveillance support to forward-deployed combat forces, the USAF said. The design is similar to stealthy UAVs such as the BAE Corax and the pan-European Neuron, and bears some resemblance to the Polecat, which the Skunk Works revealed four years ago as a company-funded, high-altitude UAV. The RQ-170 seems likely to be operating at lower altitudes, however.
Although the USAF described it as an unmanned aircraft system, AIN believes that it is an optionally piloted vehicle, with pilots employed by Lockheed Martin deployed in support of the operation. This aircraft may also be the “Desert Prowler,” as revealed by this unit insignia obtained by AIN. The home base for the RQ-170 is apparently Tonopah, Nev., where the USAF activated the 30th Reconnaissance Squadron in 2005.