Category Archives: Captured Stealth Drone

Iran unveils new UCAV modeled on captured U.S. RQ-170 stealth drone

Iran has unveiled a new UCAV based on the captured American RQ-170 stealth drone.

On Oct. 1, Iran’s Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) unveiled a new combat unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) called Saeqeh (Thunderbolt) during an expo showcasing the latest UAV projects of IRGC’s Aerospace Division.

Belonging to the Simorgh class, the new drone is a long-range unmanned aerial vehicle capable of carrying four precision-guided bombs, modeled on the American RQ-170 Sentinel stealth drone captured in 2011.

Commenting on the latest achievements by the IRGC forces, Commander of the IRGC’s Aerospace Division Brigadier General Amirali Hajizadeh said that “today Iran has better aviation systems and equipment than the US and expressed hope that one day Iran will have the same might in the UAV industry as in the missile sector.”

So, it looks like the Iranians have not only copied the RQ-170, but they have also developed something new based on the captured “Beast of Kandahar” whose crash landing in Iran remains a mystery. A sensibly smaller drone that retains the same wing shape as the Sentinel but lacks the frontal air intake of the Lockheed Martin’s stealth drone.

Moreover it’s not clear where does the landing gear (if any) comes out from.

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As widely reported on The Aviationist since 2011, there are various theories about it.

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 (and where the U.S. could not blow it up.)

The Iranians say the RQ-170 was hijacked using Jamming and GPS spoofing attack tailored on known vulnerabilities of the UAV highlighted in Air Force official documents.

The Iranians say the RQ-170 was hijacked using Jamming and GPS spoofing attack tailored on known vulnerabilities of the UAV highlighted in Air Force official documents.

This Author still believes that the most likely theory is that the stealth drone, undetected by radar, crash landed in an uninhabited area in the Iranian desert for an unknown failure.

At the beginning, the U.S. decided not to disclose the news because the robot might have crashed in the mountains, where no one would ever find it, or have suffered extensive damage that would make it useless in the hands of the Iranian analysts. And, by giving the news, they would have admitted they had undertaken spy missions inside the Iranian airspace, thus confirming they had joined Israel in the covert war on the Iranian nuclear program.

However, a shepherd found it almost intact and the news spreads, forcing the U.S. to admit the loss. Iran was given a great, unexpected opportunity to show it to the world and to make some propaganda “advertising” some of their (existing) capabilities in the Electronic and Cyber Warfare fields.

Needless to say, this is just one of the many scenarios drawn since the drone’s first pictures appeared on Iran’s State TV depicting the “Beast of Kandahar” in a school’s gymnasium: a scenario that does not involve any jamming, GPS spoofing, satellite-link encryption breaking and control link spoofing. In fact, whilst Iranians have surely shown skills and know-how in these fields, some theories about taking over of a UAV by means of jamming and hacking *seem* to be a bit far-fetched in spite of known vulnerabilities affecting U.S. drones.

Iran has hunted/recovered two more UAV types since 2011: two RQ-11s and at least one ScanEagle that had penetrated the Iranian airspace from the Persian Gulf.

Anyway, in February 2013 Iran released footage that proved 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.

A video filmed by the Sentinel clearly showed footage recorded by the drone’s underbelly camera: the area surrounding Kandahar airfield (KAF) during landing; a small building (possibly being spied); a C-130 and at least one Reaper drone among shelters at KAF.

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 some data, including video recordings from the drone’s FLIR turret, was recovered.

On May 11, 2014 Iran unveiled a copy of the Sentinel UAV drone allegedly manufactured by reverse-engineering of the Lockheed Martin RQ-170 captured in December 2011. The Iranian version of the Sentinel drone was displayed next to the original one.

On Nov. 10, 2014, Commander of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) Aerospace Force, Brigadier General Amir Ali Hajizadeh, announced that a domestic version of the RQ-170 drone, modified to carry out both bombing and reconnaissance missions, had made its maiden flight.

A video showing the copy of the Sentinel flying somewhere over Iran, filmed both from the ground and from an accompanying helicopter was released.

The photographs emerged on Oct. 1, 2016, show that the Iranians have modeled a new UCAV on the famous stealthy RQ-170 captured in 2011. What’s next?

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Image credit: Sepahnews, @Azematt

 

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Iran unveils reverse-engineered version of captured U.S. RQ-170 stealth drone

Tehran has just unveiled an indigenous version of the US RQ-170 Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) captured in December 2011.

During a ceremony held at Tehran on May 11, Iran unveiled an RQ-170 drone allegedly manufactured by reverse-engineering of U.S. Sentinel drone captured in December 2011. The Lockheed Martin’s Sentinel UAV was showcased next to the one that crash landed for (still unclear reasons) in northeastern Iran about three years ago.

Since the drone was recovered near the city of Kashmar, Iranian specialists had started studying the stealth UAV they captured.

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 found something interesting in the UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle) and its 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.

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It’s not clear whether the Sentinel-replica has already performed its maiden flight; nor is any eventual modification the Iranian engineers did to the original model. For sure, footage of the drone being flown in Iran would be the proof, the one displayed at Tehran today is something more than a model.

Iran has hunted/recovered two more UAV types since then: two RQ-11s and at least one ScanEagle that had penetrated the Iranian airspace from the Persian Gulf.

Anyway as images coming from China show, the RQ-170 has already been copied.

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Image credit FARS News Agency

 

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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.

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.

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If Iran has decoded all data in the captured U.S. stealth RQ-170 drone it’s no big deal

In the last of a series of similar claims, a senior Iranian commander announced that Tehran has just extracted all the data stored in the RQ-170 Sentinel stealth drone which was captured last year.

“All the intelligence existing in this drone has been completely decoded and extracted and we know each and every step it has taken (during its missions),” Commander of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) Aerospace Force Brigadier General Amir Ali Hajizadeh said, according to the FARS News Agency.

Noteworthy, he went on to say: “The US President (Barack Obama) had told the Israeli officials that the drone was tasked with spying on Iran’s nuclear program, but our experts found after decoding the drone that it had not performed even a single nuclear mission over Iran.”

Although it is possible that the batwing’s internal memories were not completely wiped out following the loss of satellite link with the ground control station in spite of the automatic erase that should start as a consequence of the loss of control procedure to prevent data from being recovered, it’s hard to believe something really interesting was still stored on the Sentinel when it was recovered.

Most probably, pre-planned waypoints, routes, other navigation stuff, along with some radio communication setting to establish satellite links with the remote control station: something quite “interesting” to understand the procedures used by the U.S. to spy on Iran, to guess the preferred routes, the operating altitudes, but nothing really crucial, especially if we consider that, unlike the X-47B, the RQ-170 is no longer the American cutting edge robot tech.

On the other side, as already explained, the circuitry, lenses, memories and sensors that survived the crash landing might have been evaluated, tested, copied and, possibly, improved with the help of Russia and China.

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Iran shows U.S. stealth drone captured last year

Dating back to Oct. 10, 2012, the following report (brought to my attention by Giuliano Ranieri – thanks!), aired by Al-Manar TV (Lebanon) and made available on Youtube by the MEMRI (Middle East Media Research Institute) TV, shows what seems to be the U.S. RQ-170 Sentinel drone captured by Iran in December 2011.

Provided it is not the model on display at Tehran in Feb.11 rallies.

The stealthy drone, was put on display along with missiles with the aim to acquaint the public with the capabilities of the IRGC.

The report says Iran has developed its new drones (including the new Israeli Hermes 450/Watchkeeper clone capable of carrying missiles and the VTOL tilt-wing UAV) based on technologies possibly adopted from the RQ-170.

However, in spite of all claims, Tehran has not provided substantiated any evidence to prove it has really decoded the radar-evading tech in the captured Sentinel.