Iran claims it has decoded the U.S. stealthy RQ-170 Drone Intel but provides unsubstantiated evidence to prove it.

Iran has decoded the U.S. stealthy drone intel?
What? oh, umm…yeah…sure

According to a FARS News Agency article published on Apr. 22, Iran has just finished deconding the intelligence gathering sensors and the internal hard disks of the U.S. stealthy RQ-170 Sentinel drone that was captured by Iran in December 2011.

Speaking to FNA, Commander of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) Aerospace Forces Brigadier General Amir Ali Hajizadeh revealed some data taken from the aircraft’s intelligence system to deny claims by the Pentagon according to which the Iranians would not succeed in decoding the spy drone’s memory and intelligence devices.

To provide four cues to let the US know how deep Iranian engineers could penetrate into the secrets of the drone Hajizadeh stated that

The drone parts had been transferred to California for technical works in October 2010, adding that the drone was later transferred to Kandahar, Afghanistan in November 2010 and had a flight in there.

The commander said that the drone had experienced some technical flaws in its Kandahar flight in November, but the US experts failed resolve the problems at the time.

Hajizadeh added that the RQ-170 was then sent back to an airfield near Los Angeles in December 2010 for tests on its censors and parts, adding that the drone had a number of test flights in there.

As a forth cue to prove Iran’s access to the drone’s hidden memory, the commander mentioned that the spy drone’s memory device has revealed that it had flown over Al-Qaeda Leader Osama bin Laden’s hideout in Pakistan two weeks before his death.

According to Haiizadeh,  “Had we not accessed the plane’s soft wares and hard discs, we wouldn’t have been able to achieve these facts”.

Although it is possible that the RQ-170’s internal memories were not successfully wiped out following the loss of satellite link with the drone giving the Iranians the chance to decypher some of the data collected by the drone the four “cues” provided by the Iranian General are not solid.

The same information could be retrieved, if not on the Internet (the fact that the “Beast of Kandahar” has tanken part to the Operation Neptune’s Spear to kill Osama Bin Laden was very well known since May 2011) with a little of OSINT (Open Source INTelligence) and some spying.

Aviation magazines have published pictures of the RQ-170 at Kandahar showing some modifications (obviously applied in the US) and by simply observing the drone at Kandahar before and after the new equipment was installed could be a sign of stateside work.

Hence, unless something more solid emerges, I think it’s quite unlikely that the internal memory contained useful information:  they were (probably) automatically erased as a consequence of the loss of control procedure and data will never been recovered. However, the circuitry, lenses, memories and sensors are still there and can be evaluated, tested and copied. And, maybe, improved, with the help of some interested third parties (Russia and China).

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.


  1. Prima facie, this claim seems absurd.

    Then again, I would have never thought that drones would use unencrypted video feeds, or that F-117s would fly the same route night after night over Serbia.

    Hopefully, this is false, but stupider things have happened before because of sheer arrogance.

  2. How can you come to that conclusion? The Iranians are giving the US a huge tell by saying this and it would be an omission of the reality they are facing if the info was not true for that specific airframe. There is another aviation blogger who talks about this in great detail. That airframe was jetted back to the us for specific alterations at a specific time according to the Iranians along with other details. If this is true then they have done what they said they did. Also the Yanks have admitted that the info was most likely not deleted. I like your site mate but lots of drastic conclusions are made without looking at all the info available.

    • My conclusion is simply that the evidence is so weak that, unless something more detailed emerges, I think it’s just one of the hundred propaganda messages I’ve read so far about the captured drone.
      It’s not a drastic conclusion, it’s a conclusion based on the analysis of the extremely weak evidence provided.

      Don’t forget they initially said they had intercepted it, taken over control and landed safely, even though I think it’s a widespread belief now that the drone was captured almost by accident and survived the crash landing by pure luck.

      Anyway, to clear my point of view once again: I can’t be sure they haven’t had access to the data stored in the drone’s memory, but should provide concrete evidence to prove it (especially since many, if not all, of the previous claims proved to be false).


  3. You can not think that Iran, but Iran is a big country. Iranian engineers and smart I could do it. A few more days to wait for new news about America might airplane.

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