"Three U.S. and four Israeli drones captured in Iran to be put on display soon": Tehran Times says. "Downed" RQ-170 saga continues

Tehran Times reported that Iran is about to put on display “foreign spy drones in Iran’s possession” within an exhibition that will also showcase the “latest domestically manufacture electronic warfare equipment”, and national reporters and foreign ambassadors will be allowed to visit them.

According to a source close to the Iranian newspaper, the foreign robots in the hands of the  ayatollahs’ regime are three U.S. and four Israeli drones.

“the four Israeli drones that are now in Iran’s possession had violated the country’s airspace along the eastern borders, and the three U.S. unmanned aircraft had penetrated into the country’s airspace along either the eastern or southern border.”

The news arrives in the aftermath of the capture of a stealth RQ-170 Sentinel, so far considered the most advanced (known) U.S. drone, the first to be displayed after several claims of American ‘bots downed while spying uranium enrichment sites as part of the covert war against Iran’s nuclear program.

Interestingly, the same article discloses for the first time what everyone already knew: a number of countries have reportedly asked for permission to inspect the “Beast of Kandahar”.

While waiting for new images to analyze, there are still many questions to be answered about the capture of the stealthy Sentinel.

An interesting document titled “Report on Operating Next-Generation Remotely Piloted Aircraft for Irregular Warfare”  published by the U.S. Air Force Scientific Advisory Board in April 2011 and made available by Public Intelligence a couple of days ago, provides some interesting (and official) assesement about the reliability of the communication link between the drone and the ground control station.

According to the document, U.S. drone are subject to the following threats (excerpt):

  • Jamming of commercial satellite communications (SATCOM) links is a widely available technology.  It can provide an effective tool for adversaries against data links or as a way for comma nd and control (C2) denial.
  • Operational needs may require the use of  unencrypted data links to provide broadcast services to ground troops without security  clearances.  Eavesdropping on these links is a known exploit that is  available to adversaries for extremely low cost.
  • Spoofing or hijacking links that can lead to damaging missions, or even to platform loss.

Dealing with the threat to Position, Navigation and Guidance the documents undelines that:

“There is a wide range of methods that a determined adversary can use for  attacking RPA guidance and navigation systems.  The report mentions here only three  categories of threats without going into the details:

  • Small, simple GPS noise jammers can be  easily constructed and employed by an unsophisticated adversary and would be  effective over a limited RPA operating area.
  • GPS repeaters are also available for corrupting navigation capabilities of RPAs.
  • Cyber threats represent a major challenge for future RPA operations.  Cyber attacks can affect both on-board and ground systems, and exploits may range from asymmetric CNO attacks to highly sophisticated electronic systems and software attacks.”

So, what may have happened to the Sentinel?

We can only speculate. The drone may have suffered a lost-link event because of a technical failure (link losses occurs every now and then) or an attack from Iran. Following the loss of satellite link, the procedure foresees that the drone switches to automatic flying and heads towards a preplanned set of waypoints to fly a loop until link is re-established or fuel finishes (with consequent crash).

As I think (and hope) that the preplanned waypoint for lost-link procedure for a mission inside the enemy airspace is set inside the friendly airspace (in order to prevent it from crashing “behind the enemy lines”) I can’t explain why the drone crashed in Iran and not in Afghanistan.

Unless, Iran was really able to corrupt the stealthy robot’s navigational system using jammers and rogue GPS repeaters guiding it in the wrong direction.

04:00PM GMT Dec 15 update

Something that came to my mind while discussing this post with Guido Olimpio, Corriere della Sera correspondent from the U.S.: Tehran is going to show the remains of 7 drones (4 American and 3 Israeli robots) “downed” in Iran. But, if they were flying inside the Iranian airspace they had to be stealth ones.  Shall we expect something never seen before?

BTW: the exhibition could something like the Tishreen War Panorama museum in Damascus, Syria, that I visited few years ago, where wreckage of Israeli planes and parts of them, were showcased.

Stay tuned.

This, along with all the previous articles on the Sentinel drone in Iran, can be found at the following link: https://theaviationist.com/category/captured-stealth-drone/

About David Cenciotti
David Cenciotti is a journalist based in Rome, Italy. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviationist”, one of the world’s most famous and read military aviation blogs. Since 1996, he has written for major worldwide magazines, including Air Forces Monthly, Combat Aircraft, and many others, covering aviation, defense, war, industry, intelligence, crime and cyberwar. He has reported from the U.S., Europe, Australia and Syria, and flown several combat planes with different air forces. He is a former 2nd Lt. of the Italian Air Force, a private pilot and a graduate in Computer Engineering. He has written five books and contributed to many more ones.