German Heron Drone Hacked and Crashed by Taliban in Afghanistan

Nov 13 2013 - 12 Comments

In previous article about a German Heron drone that crashed into a C-160 at Mazar-i-Sharif in 2010, we reported the harsh comments by Bild newspaper that defined athe German Army experience with drones in Afghanistan “an infinite history of failures, crashes and embarrassment.”

Indeed, that night crash that left both the UAV and the C-160 Transall cargo severely damaged, was not the first incident occurred to the German UAVs in theater.

In 2002 an EMT Luna X-2000 reconnaissance drone passed few meters under the left wing of an Ariana Afghan Airways Airbus A300 with 100 people on board, was caught in the Airbus’s wake turbulence, lost control, and crashed over the Afghan capital Kabul.

On Nov. 11, Die Welt, reported of a third crash by a Heron drone that occurred on Nov. 8, 2013.

The remains of the drone were located on the following day and, an ISAF F-16 was tasked to destroy it before it went in the wrong hands.

Third loss aside, what’s interesting is the fact that, according to Israeli sources, the incident was not “simply” caused by a failure or loss of communication by the ground station, but may have been cause by the navigation system being hacked.

This is what Richard Silverstein wrote on his blog Tikun-Olam after talking with an unspecified source who told him that hacking is “strongly suspected” as the cause of the loss but “doesn’t know who hacked the controls, but it would seem most likely to be the Taliban or whatever insurgent forces operate in northern Afghanistan.  The expertise for hacking the Israeli drones appears most likely to derive from Iran.”

Hacking of drone’s navigation system by Iran’s cyber teams was among the possible causes of the capture of a CIA’s stealthy RQ-170 Sentinel drone in Iran in December 2011.

Heron1 2

Image credit: Cassidian



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  • Lama glama

    I didn’t get much past “Israel lobby” and “Arafat murdered by Polonium”. At this point, given the editorial line Mr. Silverstein follows, the parsimonious explanation is that this is a case of confirmation bias.
    You have to hand it to the Iranians though – no one does PSYOPS like they do.

    • OG_Locc

      LOL. Yes, but the Iranian psyops only work on their own citizens and cheerleaders.

  • CharleyA

    In the case of the RQ-170, it looks like it was a lost comm scenario complicated by poorly written software, which caused the aircraft to orbit until it ran out of fuel, and luckily for the Iranians, it happened over relatively flat terrain. The removal of a self destruct mechanism was a mistake revealed by hindsight, and newer flight control and C3 software has more robust routines to handle different “scenarios.” Remember that the RQ-170 was not exactly new at the time it was lost.

  • Really, Silverstein??

    Seriously – Richard Silverstein has been had (again – remember the “Secret Bibi Plan for Bombing Iran”) ? The whole “IAF UAV’s hacked story” was just a plot by the posters on the Fresh Military forum in order to show how Silverstein is ready to accept any “unspecified source” in his bid to discredit and villify Israel.

  • IronDrone

    Please do not quote Richard Silverstein as an authoritative source on anything, ever but especially on drones. He’s been proven wrong on multiple occasions with his “drone scoops”.

  • OG_Locc

    Oh good grief. Nobody “hacked” the drone.

    • Jerry S

      Call me crazy, but I wouldn’t rule out the possibility that the Americans hacked the Israeli/German drone, just to see if they can do it.
      Of course I’m not saying it was the same NSA who hacked Merkel’s cellphone and Bibi’s email system… Now THAT would be a preposterous claim…

  • marco

    Anyway a good feel of reality.

    Drones are good when the enemy is technically completely overwhelmed. They become nearly useless in a total war, symmetric warfare scenario, where the enemy can count on advanced electronic warfare to disrupt any signal going over its territory, aside for direct weapons (missiles, guns) that make UAVs just a target practice… drone.

    Simply, THAT signal to the ground station is their biggest weak point.

    This point is often overseen by the ones who show the drones as a deadly war tool superseding manned fighter jets.

  • bigcreek2

    I find it very unlikely that the Germans UAS system had been hacked, I am quite certain that their encryption is will above any jihadist “hack” abilities

  • Farzam Mir
  • Farzam Mir

    A better video: