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Iran captures US spy plane

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US drone captured in Iran

Iranian news is showing a video of an US RQ-170 Sentinel UAV (drone) which it has captured.

Taiwan News reported:

Several US officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the drone program is classified, said the greatest concern is that access to the aircraft could give Russian or Chinese scientists insight into its flight controls, communications gear, video equipment and any self-destruct or return-to-base mechanisms.

In addition, they said, the remains of the RQ-170 could help a technologically sophisticated military or science establishment develop Infrared Surveillance and Targeting (IRST) technology that under some conditions are capable of detecting stealth aircraft such as drones and the new Lockheed Martin F-35s.

The Pentagon and the Central Intelligence Agency declined to comment on whether the aircraft Iran displayed is real. A US defense official, however, said the plane appears to be an actual RQ-170, though he said US experts were still examining the video.

The aircraft shown on Iranian TV appeared to be in good condition for a high-altitude plane that the Iranians initially said they had shot down.

The most frightening prospect raised by what appears to be a largely intact Sentinel is that the Iranians’ second claim about how they brought it down ― by hacking into its controls and landing it themselves ― might be true, said a US intelligence official, who spoke only on the basis of anonymity because the RQ-170 is part of a Secret Compartmented Intelligence (SCI) program, a classification higher than Top Secret.

NYT reported:

American officials viewing the video declined to confirm or deny that the aircraft shown was the one that they have said was lost several days ago by controllers in neighboring Afghanistan.

The two-and-a-half-minute video clip of the remote-controlled surveillance aircraft was presented by Iran as the first visual evidence that it had had possession of the drone since Sunday, when Iran asserted that its military downed the aircraft 140 miles inside Iranian territory. American officials have said the drone was lost because of a malfunction.

The aircraft shown on Iranian television appeared to be in good condition, which would seem to be inconsistent with an uncontrolled landing, although a close inspection of the images appeared to show a fracture on part of the wing that had been taped.

13 December, 2011

After the US formally asked for its spy plane back, Xinhua reported:

The Pentagon had earlier just officially acknowledged that an unmanned aircraft of an unspecified type was “missing” over western Afghanistan.

Still, U.S. president Obama made a statement on Dec.12, first confirming that the stealthy high-altitude spy plane had been captured by Iran.

“We’ve asked for it back. We’ll see how the Iranians respond,” Obama said during a news conference with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

In a tit-for-tat response, Iranian officials stated that they will not return the aircraft and promised to reverse-engineer the jet’s technology.

Gen. Hossein Salami, deputy head of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, remarked on state television that the violation of Iran’s airspace by the U.S. drone was a “hostile act” and warned of a “bigger” response.

“No one returns the symbol of aggression to the party that sought secret and vital intelligence related to the national security of a country,” Salami said Sunday.

It is unclear whether Iran could technologically glean from what it seized as it vowed, but the capture of the unarmed surveillance drone intact would give access to a treasure trove of classified information including the designs of the aircraft and its payload of sensors.

Experts also made the assumption that Iran could deal a significant blow to the U.S. military, as the event “allowing Tehran to counter or copy the highly classified technology.”

The RQ-170 Sentinel, made by Lockheed Martin, has been used in Afghanistan for years. It gained notoriety earlier this year when officials disclosed that one was used to keep watch Osama bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan as the raid that killed him was taking place.

On top of the fearsome prospect that Iranian engineers could potentially find ways to defeat the U.S. stealth technology and disillusion the Pentagon’s ambition to take advantage of these less costly unmanned hi-tech jets to make a global network of surveillance, it is also most likely that the jet has come under external attack via cyber or electronic means.

Although it is highly dubious that it could currently hacker into the operating system of UAVs, Iran would still pose a severe threat to the future unmanned drones and fighters which extensively employ data link, once it proves that RQ-170 Sentinel fell into Iran’s hands by means of cyber attacks.

Also, U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta may well recompose his polyphony of Air-sea battle concept, as the UAV plays an inalienable part in the U.S. global strategy.


Written by Arhopala Bazaloides

December 9, 2011 at 8:57 am

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