Tag Archives: Beast of Kandahar

Iran releases decoded footage from captured U.S stealthy RQ-170 drone

Iran has just released footage that proves it has, if not literally decoded, at least accessed some of the data stored inside the U.S. stealthy RQ-170 drone captured in December 2011.

The video, that was aired by an Iranian TV, as part of an interview in which Sardar Hajizadeh, the Commander of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) Aerospace Forces, tells how the drone was captured and how its technology was successfully accessed and decoded, is the first evidence Iran has found something interesting in the unmanned aircraft’s intelligence gathering sensors and internal hard disks.

So far, Iran claims were never backed by evidences: some blurry details about its activity in California and Afghanistan and some unrelevant information; data that could be retrieved with a little of OSINT (Open Source INTelligence) and some spying.

RQ-170_2

Now, the new video clearly shows footage recorded by the drone underbelly camera: the area surrounding Kandahar airfield (KAF) as the RQ-170 is about to land, a small building (possibly being spied), a C-130 and at least one Reaper drone among shelters at KAF.

Nothing really special, still something that clearly shows Iranians did find something inside the Sentinel and were able to extract and decode it.

Hence, the drone’s internal memories still contained some useful information and were not fully automatically erased as a consequence of the loss of control procedure. To such an extent data, including video recordings from the drone’s FLIR turret, was recovered.

Noteworthy, some still images (that you can find in the longer video here below) show the drone immediately after being recovered in the desert and, later, moved with a helicopter sling load.

How the “Beast of Kandahar” crash landed in Iran remains a mystery: Tehran claims it was hacked, but the stealth drone, undetected by any radar, might have crash landed for a failure somewhere in eastern Iran where it was found (possibly by accident). And where the U.S. could not blow it up.

RQ-170_1

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[Updated] U.S. Stealthy RQ-170 model on display at Tehran in Feb.11 Rallies. With extracted landing gear.

On Feb.11, a model of the U.S. stealthy RQ-170 drone captured on Dec. 4, 2011, was displayed at Tehran during the pro-government rallies marking the 33rd anniversary of the victory of the Islamic Revolution.

According to the Fars news agency that has released a very small image taken by the Iranian ralliers, the spy robot model has been built by the aerospace unit of the IRGC (Islamic Revolution Guards Corps).

Although the one displayed at Tehran is a model (even if some are still uncertain whether the one seen in the aftermath of the capture is real or fake), this can be considered the first public appearance of the Lockheed Martin RQ-170 Sentinel since it was showcased for the first time by Iran after it was recovered.

Noteworthy, whereas the alleged real one had its underbelly completely hidden, the 1:1 model on display on Feb. 11 seems to have the undercarriage extracted and clearly visible.

Few weeks ago Iranian media gave the news that a 1:80 reproduction of the RQ-170 was produced to be put on the market and would be sent as a gift to President Obama, who asked the return of the “Beast of Kandahar” captured by Tehran.

Image credit: Fars news agency

Iran to return the captured stealthy RQ-170 Sentinel drone to the U.S. As a scale model.

Update Jan. 17 13:15 GMT

Around $4: this is the expected price of the 1:80 reproduction of the stealthy RQ-170 drone captured on Dec. 4, that a group of Iranian youths has decided to produce and market at their own expense.

Iranian Radio Payam gave the news that the toy will be showcased on Feb. 1, in a special ceremony for the 34th anniversary of the victory of the Islamic Revolution in Iran, and will be sent as a gift to President Obama, who asked the return of the “Beast of Kandahar” captured by Tehran in mysterious circumstances.

According to some websites, the 30×14 cm scale model will have an inscription: ‘We will trample the U.S.’

Images of the new Iranian children toy’s ads have already appeared….

Above image: Mehr news agency

Maybe this is what Iran meant they said that they had already reverse-engineered the U.S. ‘bot.

This is not the first time a U.S. stealthy aircraft becomes a scale model. You’ll remember the Stealth Black Hawk model by the Chinese Dragon.

By the way, some (more expensive) RQ-170 models are already sold on eBay.

I don’t know the actual price, but some luxury RQ-170 models are already sold in Iran too, as shown on the Aaye Art Group here.

Above image from Aaye Art Group website.

In the meanwhile the U.S. Air Force said it has understood what caused the crash of its spy robot although it didn’t disclose details. Noteworthy, the RQ-170 is still operating in Afghanistan (and maybe even on the eastern border with Iran) meaning that they are either confident Tehran has nothing to do with the crash landing or they have fixed the technical glitch which might have been the root cause of the incident.

Never seen before pictures: Iran's (blue-colored) Sayyad-2 anti-aircraft missile exposed

Since a U.S. RQ-170 Sentinel drone was captured in Iran on Dec. 4, 2011, I’ve been a frequent visitor of Iranian news agencies, State TV and newspapers websites.

This semi-official sources have provided an interesting variety of images and videos about Iran’s military. Not only the famous photographs of the “Beast of Kandahar” and the doctored video allegedly showing the American drone landing at an Iranian airbase, but also the footage of the U.S. aircraft carrier Stennis cruising near the Strait of Hormuz, and a funny model of a Hondajet plane advertised as Tehran’s new surveillance drone.

Today, what I’ve found on the IRG website is not a photoshopped image, or a video whose authenticity is debatable, but some really interesting and genuine (at least at first glance) photographs of the Sayyad-2 anti-aircraft missile system at work.

The Sayyad-2 is an improved (and probably outwardly much similar, if not identical) version of the Sayyad-1 missile, an Iranian indigenized system of a Chinese development of the Russian S-75 (SA-2 “Guideline” in NATO designation – yes, the SAM system that brought down Francis Gary Powers and his U-2 in 1960).

The existence of this surface-to-air missile system, that according to the most authoritative sources also integrates North Korean technology, was made public in April 2011, but the one just published are, to my knowledge, the first images of the Sayyad 2 being test-fired available on the web.

According to the IRG website, the photographs were taken during  “Great Prophet 6″, an exercise that took place at the end of April, and included the test launching of the Shahab-1, Shahab-2 and Shahab-3 and Zelzal missiles.

Since then, the Sayyad has been deployed in all air-defense units across Iran. Hence, it is one of the SAM systems any U.S. or Israeli plane (either stealth or not) will have to face in case of future attack (provided that some sort of covert war on Tehran nuclear program has not started yet).

As said, the latest Iranian SAM system is a modified version of the Sayyad-1, a two-staged air defense missile capable to destroy targets with a low Radar Cross Section (RCS) flying at low, medium and very high altitude (with a claimed ceiling of 80,000 feet).

According to the data contained in a FARS news agency article published last year, the Sayyad-2 travels at 3,600 km/h (2,500 mph), has a range of 80-100 km, includes ECCM (Electronic Counter-Counter Measures) equipment and carries a 200-kilogram warhead.

And, as images show, it is colored in light-blue, a bit flashy/naive for a SAM missile that should try to remain unvisible for as long as possible.

By the way, according to the EXIF data, pictures were taken on Apr. 15 and Jun. 6, 2011.

Image source: sepahnews.com

Top military aviation stories of 2011: drones up and downs, stealth projects exposed and Libya's 7-month-long war.

Update, Dec. 28 21.35 GMT

A quick look at the main events and news I’ve covered on this blog during 2011 helped me to identify the topics that can be used to characterize the year that is coming to an end.

Before I start, please let me spend a few words about this blog.

Articles on these subjects, along with many more blog posts for a total of 231 articles in the last year only, were read on average by more than 3,200 daily unique visitors worth +1,200,000 unique visitors from all around the world in 2011!

Thank you all for reading my articles (not only on the website but also on “traditional” magazines) and for you continuous support. The impressive amount of visitors and their demand for both updates and the usual professional analysis of the most important aviation and defense news  will probably lead me to seek the help of some additional writer….

“Libya Air War”, “F-22 grounding”, “Stealth Black Hawk down”, “Captured RQ-170 drone in Iran”: these are the headlines that more than any other have may have changed the perception of military aviation we had at the beginning of the year; an year that has sent us some interesting “messages”:

There’s an increasing need for drones. Robots are cheaper than conventional planes (as their hourly cost is about a fifth the cost of a manned plane), expendable, persistent and effective, especially in Libya-like scenarios  (read below for more info on this subject…) where they do not face hi-altitude anti-aircraft missiles. They are not only useful in combat, they are also used to perform reconnaissance and surveillance in areas hit by natural calamities or along the borders for national security purposes. That’s why air forces and other operators have drones on the top of their shopping lists.

Drones are vulnerable. The virus that infected the Predators’ Ground Control Station has demonstrated that even the most important assets, those that are isolated and not interconnected to public networks, are not immune to the same malware that travels on the web. But, as we have learnt with the recent capture of the stealthy Sentinel drone in Iran, combat robots face also many known threats to their Position, Navigation and Guidance system, such as jamming and spoofing, even thought it still not clear whether the CIA-operated “Beast of Kandahar” currently in Iranian hands (that could possibly study it to reverse-engineer its on board systems) crash landed some 250 km from the Afghan border for a complex cyber attack or (most likely) because of a technical glitch.

Drones are remotely controlled by humans. Hence, they often fall becaused of pilot errors. In fact,  although their pilots don’t risk their lives they lack some motion-induced feelings that manned platform pilots have and can react to quickly. Furthermore, airmen who remotely fly attack drones have been experiencing emotional stress caused from long hours of work and ever-increasing workloads to such an extent that there are many on the edge of mental illnesses.

Black projects and advanced stealth tech are not only speculation: the existence of a Stealth Black Hawk helicopter whose designation is not MH-X (and most probably of a Stealth Chinook too), was exposed in May 2011 by the first images that circulated on the Internet of the tail part of one of the helicopters involved in the raid that killed Osama Bin Laden, at Abbottabad, Pakistan. Black projects, supposed to remain secret, are now a reality and they not only live in conspiracy theories and rumors. They exist and take part in special operations “behind the enemy lines”.

Advanced stealth tech is not only U.S. stuff: with the “epic fail” of the RQ-170 and the Stealth Black Hawk’s tail survived to the destruction, chunks of stealth tech and an entire once secret drone are in the hands of some of the worst U.S. friends/enemies: Pakistan, Iran, China and maybe Russia. Probably, not a big deal. Surely, a leap forward in their knowledge of American wartech.

It was a tough year for Lockheed Martin’s stealths. Targeted also by the Iranian satire for losing a CIA drone, LM has had a bitter year, that was made a little sweeter by the decision of the Japan’s Ministry of Defense to select the costly and troubled stealthy F-35 as the future fighter of the JASDF. The F-22 fleet was grounded for four months since May, after an accident a worrying series of disorientation and hypoxia-like syntoms complained by 14 pilots. In spite the root cause of the air-deprivation episodes was not fully identified, and the on board oxygen system was under suspiction before pilot error was blamed for a Raptor crash in Alaska, the next generation fighter plane, believed to be able to face outnumbering Chinese fighters in the future, returned to normal activity at the end of October and will be next year’s only single-ship demo team of the U.S. Air Combat Command.

War against Iran is already started. Even if some observers think that the U.S. is on the verge of a conflict with Iran after Tehran’s regime threatened to stop ships moving through the Strait of Hormuz, a covert war on Iran’s nuclear program, involving computer viruses, drones and PSYOPS is already in progress.

Wars can come unannounced and air forces can’t be found unprepared for that. The air campaign in Libya from March to October 2011 eventually led to the declaration of the full liberation of the country by the National Transitional Council but the way it was planned and executed by a coalition of NATO and non-NATO members has raised many questions. From various reasons, Operation Unified Protector  seemed more an opportunity to promote specific air forces and their weapon systems rather than a means to achieve a clear military objective.

For this reason it lasted much more than expected, in spite of the total lack of threat posed by the Libyan Arab Air Force and the extensive use of  legacy as well as brand new technologies, including drones, new generation fighters and EW assets, stealth bombers on Global Power missions and cruise missiles.

Indeed, beyond the marketing slogans of the manufacturers, eager to put their products under the spotlight, and the statements of the high rank officers of some services involved in the air campaign (often with the only task of performing endless orbits above the desert to wait for an enemy fighter that never showed up), Operation Unified Protector was an example of how the Air Power should not be used.

So, which were the “lessons identified” in Libya by coalition members that will hopefully become “learned” in the next few years?

1) The need for more drones to perform ISR (Intelligence Surveillance and Reconnaissance) as well as strike missions.

2) The need for more tankers: along with 80% of all the special operations planes (RC-135s, U-2s, E-8 Joint Stars, EC-130Js providing Electronic Warfare, SIGINT, PSYOPS, etc.) more than any bomber, the real added value of Washington’s contribution to the Operation Unified Protector were the obsolete KC-135s and KC-10s which offloaded million pounds of fuel to the allied planes.

3) The need for more bombs in stock: many air forces involved in the air strikes ran short of bombs after the first 90 days of the war.

4) The need for light bombs that can prevent collateral damages. Even if the Paveways and the French AASM (Armement Air-Sol Modulaire  – Air-to-Ground Modular Weapon) performed well, the war reinforced the need for lighter weapons as the dual-mode Brimstones, small guided missiles with a range of 7.5 miles, a millimeter wave radar seeker, a semi-active laser (SAL) that enables final guidance to the target by either the launching platform or another plane, that proved to be perfect for small targets, individuals and fast-moving vehicles.

4) The need for low-cost combat planes: even if the multi-role Eurofighter Typhoon and the “omnirole” Dassault Rafale were at the forefront before, during and after the war because they were shortlisted in the India’s Medium Multirole Combat Aircraft “mother of all tenders”, the war in Libya reinforced the need for cheaper planes (as the Italian AMX) to contain the cost of prolonged operations.

Above image courtesy of Nicola Ruffino

5) Helicopters must be used in combat within strike packages, i.e. the French way.

British Apaches on board HMS Ocean flew in pairs and completed roughly 25 combat sorties striking 100 targets in the coastal areas of Brega and Tripoli. Another 40 missions were cancelled due to insufficient intelligence information and the residual threat posed by Libyan anti-aircraft systems.

On the other side, French combat helicopters flew within strike packages and conducted 90% of NATO helicopter strikes in Libya destroying more than 600 targets, including what was left of Gaddafi’s armored and mechanized forces. French helicopters were crucial to the successful take of Tripoli and the final victory.

Back to the UK’s AH-64s embarked operations exposed several shortcomings of the Apache, such as the  need for both a floating device and a new canopy jettison system that could improve the crew’s survival probability in the event of ditching.

6) As happened in Serbia, an air campaign must focus on a quick achievement of the air superiority and a subsequent intense use of the air power against the ground targets. The way the air campaign was conducted and planned in Libya, contributed to transform what could have been a quick victory into an almost deadlocked battlefield: during the whole operation, no more than 100 air strike sorties were launched on a single day, with the daily average of 45.

By comparison, during Allied Force in Serbia in 1999, on average, 487 sorties were launched each day, 180 being strike sorties, even if in the opening stages of the war and towards the end (when the air strikes against the Serbian ground forces became more intense), the alliance flew more than 700 daily sorties with roughly one third being bombing missions. A modern war  in such a low-risk scenario is always an opportunity for air forces to show their capabilities, to test their most modern equipment in a real environment and to fire live ordnance.

Successful results during the Libyan air war have given them the opportunity to request the budget needed to save some planes from defense cuts and the RAF Sentinel R1 saga’s happy ending can be considered a confirmation of this.

However, some sorties led to some curious or rather embarrassing episodes, like the French Tiger that landed on a beach to pick up a Free Libya flag,  the alleged air-to-air kill of Libyan combat planes that were grounded and unserviceable, or the very difficult to explain RAF Tornado’s Storm Shadow missions from the UK.

As mysterious as the real shape of the Stealth Black Hawk.

Other interesting 2011 topics (based on pageviews)

Utøya island attack: another example of news helicopters faster to the scene than police choppers

Blue Angels’ almost crash: the risk of Controlled Flight Into Terrain during formation aerobatics

After the Argentine Air Force IA-63 Pampa crazy flyby the Argentine AF A-4AR’s fuel tank disintegrating after a high-G maneuver….

NATO Tiger Meet 2011: a real exercise with some interesting “hardware” rather than a gathering of friends