The New Iranian RQ 170 Sentinel US Copy Drone in Action – Iran
Iran recently put into operation a final version of the sophisticated US RQ-170 stealth aircraft, which was downed with minimal damage by the Iranian Armed Forces’ electronic warfare unit in December, 2011, while flying over the Iranian city of Kashmar, some 225 kilometers (140 miles) from the Afghan border.
The domestically produced version of the unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) made a successful maiden flight a few days ago the footage of which has just been released.
The Lockheed Martin RQ-170 Sentinel is an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) developed by Lockheed Martin and operated by the United States Air Force (USAF) for the Central Intelligence Agency. While the USAF has released few details on the UAV’s design or capabilities, defense analysts believe that it is a stealth aircraft fitted with reconnaissance equipment.
RQ-170s have been reported to have operated in Afghanistan as part of Operation Enduring Freedom. It has been confirmed that the UAVs have operated over Pakistan and Iran; operations over Pakistan included sorties that collected intelligence before and during the operation which led to the death of Osama bin Laden in May 2011.
In December 2011, the Iranian armed forces claimed to have captured an RQ-170 flying over Iran. The U.S. military has acknowledged losing an RQ-170 in the region. United States administration asked Iran to return the UAV. Iran denied the request and lodged a complaint to the UN Security Council over airspace violation by US.
Four months prior to December 2011, there were reports that RQ-170s had been flying missions over Iran during 2011. On 4 December, media reports stated that the Iranian Army’s electronic warfare unit had downed an RQ-170 that violated Iranian airspace along its eastern border through overriding its controls, and had captured the lightly damaged UAV. The United States Department of Defense released a statement acknowledging that it had lost control of a UAV during the previous week, claiming that it was “flying a mission over western Afghanistan” when control was lost. The statement did not specify the model of the aircraft. The U.S. government also stated that it was still investigating the cause of the loss. On 6 December, U.S. officials acknowledged that a drone crashed in or near Iranian airspace and that it belonged to the CIA and not to ISAF as was earlier stated.
The Iranian government released footage of a captured RQ-170 on 8 December. The captured drone appeared to be largely intact, except for minor damage on its left wing. Dan Goure, an analyst at the Lexington Institute, stated the largely intact airframe ruled out the possibility of an engine or navigational malfunction: “Either this was a cyber/electronic warfare attack system that brought the system down or it was a glitch in the command-and-control system”. On 8 December, a senior U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told the Washington Post that the U.S. cannot be certain the drone shown was real because the U.S. does not have access to it, but also stated that “We have no indication that it was brought down by hostile fire.” A second senior U.S. military official said that a major question is how the drone could have remained “virtually intact,” given the high altitude from which it is thought to have crashed. After examining the video on 8 Dec, US officials confirmed that the drone was genuine, even though some civilians had initially expressed doubt. Bill Sweetman, an author with an interest in military planes, speculated that the Iranians did not shoot down the plane (citing the lack of burn marks, holes, or outward damage) or hack into the system, postulating that a system failure downed the plane, and that the plane could be intact from what is known as a “flat spin” or “falling leaf departure”.
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