Iran has flown its version of the captured U.S. stealthy RQ-170 drone modified to bomb US Navy warships

Although footage has yet to be released, Tehran claims a domestically modified RQ-170 Sentinel has already made its maiden flight.

Update Nov. 12, 2014: a video has been released. Click here.

On May 11, Iran unveiled a copy of the Lockheed Martin RQ-170 Sentinel UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle) drone allegedly manufactured by reverse-engineering of U.S. Sentinel drone captured in December 2011. The Iranian version of the Sentinel drone was displayed next to the one that crash landed in northeastern Iran about three years ago for reasons that are still unknown.

In February 2013, a video proved that they had accessed some of the data stored inside the so-called “Beast of Kandahar”: after several unsubstantiated claims, the footage was the first evidence that Iran had managed to retrieve something from the once secret drone’s internal hard disks.

“All the memories and computer systems of this plane have been decoded and some good news will be announced in the near future not just about the RQ-170 and the optimizations that our forces have done on the reversed engineered model of this drone, but also in area of other important defense achievements,” IRGC Lieutenant Commander General Hossein Salami said to the Fars News Agency last year.

On Nov. 10, Commander of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) Aerospace Force, Brigadier General Amir Ali Hajizadeh, told the press that the Iranian version of the RQ-170 drone, modified to carry out both bombing and reconnaissance missions, has already had its maiden flight.

“The footage of its flight will be released soon,” Hajizadeh told reporters according to FARS News.

Whereas the first prototype was a smaller copy of the Sentinel (60% the size of the original RQ-170) which flew about four months ago, the final model is a full-scale, reverse-engineered stealthy drone, equipped with special parts required to carry bombs. Weapons to be used “against the US warships in any possible showdown between the two countries.

According to the Iranians the American drone was brought down by the Iranian Armed Forces’ electronic warfare unit which hacked into the RQ-170 remote control systems and ordered the aircraft to land in the eastern part of the country.

Even though such claims are still debated, especially in the light of other alleged achievements by Tehran (as the infamous F-313 Qaher stealth fighter jet), Iran has really showcased some almost intact UAV types in the recent past: two RQ-11s and at least one ScanEagle that had penetrated the Iranian airspace from the Persian Gulf.

Anyway, while there are chances that the engine, circuitry, lenses, memories and sensors that survived the crash landing of the CIA-operated RQ-170 might have been evaluated, tested, copied and, possibly, improved with the help of Russia and China, it’s hard to believe such hardware and remaining data have allowed Iran to move as much as 35 years ahead in building drones or their components.  Especially if we consider that, unlike the X-47B and some black UAV projects like the RQ-180, the RQ-170 is no longer the American cutting edge robot tech.

Image credit: Tasmin News


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. Strike ONE US ship, lose one Iranian ship.
    Last time I looked, we had more ships than Iran does.
    I’m pretty sure we have more NUKES. Want to play that game too?

      • Were you in a coma during the last fifteen years? There’s a lot of dead Iraqi soldiers and Taliban roasting in Hell who prove you don’t have a #$%$ clue about our capabilities.
        Didn’t your daddy tell you about bringing a big mouth to a Tomahawk fight? L my FAO.

  2. This claim means that there has been no progress made in the nuclear talks between Mullahs and P5+1

  3. Oh yeah it’s not the cutting edge. It’s generally assumed RQ-170 development started some time around 2004 – 10 years ago.

    This means it’s one of the newest *designs* you can get your hand on. The design of the B-2, F-22, F-35 is much older. Don’t forget the F-22 prototype flew in 1991 and that’s how old the design is.

    So this whole matter is nothing to laugh at.

    Also consider that the Chinese may do the hard work but deliver some of the result to Iran. If Iran uses that in military operations there you have plausible deniability for China.

    Still I wouldn’t underestimate the Iranians in general. Sure we have all the stupid stuff like “Qaher 313”.

    Here’s some food for thought: What if the Iranians are deliberately releasing nonsense claims about fairy-tale weapons systems to create a smoke screen for their real developments? Who really knows what the Iranians can and can’t do right now, and what their real directions of development are? Who knows what to take seriously, and how do you convince Western decision makers that something is a real threat when we’ve seen so many fake threats?

    And no-one wants to have a repeat of the Saddam WMD fiasco so we wait until we’re extra sure they really DO have them ;)

    The developing trend is that the U.S. are littering the entire world with their technology and everyone can pick it clean for their purposes.

    While we have to admit we have hardly a f****ing clue what the cutting-edge capabilities of China, Iran etc really are.

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