If you point your Google Earth client towards Palmdale, California, you will find a very interesting imagery signature at Lockheed Martin’s Advanced Development Program Facility.
Widely known as “Skunk Works” LM’s Advanced Development Program Facility is where some of the most adveniristic “black projects” are developed.
Although it’s a bit hard to believe that any new drone (or secret variant of a known one) would be quietly sitting open-air for any satellite to see, what Open Source GEOINT has found is at least worth a mention.
The wingspan exceeds the one of a radar evading Sentinel and the left wing appears to be slightly broken, as if the packaged drone was damaged.
Image credit: OSGEOINT
As OSGEOINT’s George Kaplan notes:
“Although the signature above does not conform to any known UAV, it’s possible this could be anything from a mock-up to a failed design. (However, if it were a mock-up, why would LM feel the need to cover it?).”
“Measurements taken from imagery suggests the craft is roughly the same size as the RQ-170 at 4.8 meters while the wingspan is considerably larger–when compared to open source estimates–at 16.60 meters.”
Therefore, it has more or less the same shape and size of an RQ-170 and the packaging, for protective reasons rather than security and confidentiality) could extend beyond the wingtips.
And, incidentally, the satellite image was taken on Dec. 4, the same day when the radar-evading drone crash landed somewhere in Iran during a spying mission.
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).
According to the Fars news agency that has released a very small image taken by the Iranian ralliers, the spy robot model has been built by the aerospace unit of the IRGC (Islamic Revolution Guards Corps).
Although the one displayed at Tehran is a model (even if some are still uncertain whether the one seen in the aftermath of the capture is real or fake), this can be considered the first public appearance of the Lockheed Martin RQ-170 Sentinel since it was showcased for the first time by Iran after it was recovered.
Noteworthy, whereas the alleged real one had its underbelly completely hidden, the 1:1 model on display on Feb. 11 seems to have the undercarriage extracted and clearly visible.
Few weeks ago Iranian media gave the news that a 1:80 reproduction of the RQ-170 was produced to be put on the market and would be sent as a gift to President Obama, who asked the return of the “Beast of Kandahar” captured by Tehran.
Around $4: this is the expected price of the 1:80 reproduction of the stealthy RQ-170 drone captured on Dec. 4, that a group of Iranian youths has decided to produce and market at their own expense.
Iranian Radio Payam gave the news that the toy will be showcased on Feb. 1, in a special ceremony for the 34th anniversary of the victory of the Islamic Revolution in Iran, and will be sent as a gift to President Obama, who asked the return of the “Beast of Kandahar” captured by Tehran in mysterious circumstances.
According to some websites, the 30×14 cm scale model will have an inscription: ‘We will trample the U.S.’
Images of the new Iranian children toy’s ads have already appeared….
Above image: Mehr news agency
Maybe this is what Iran meant they said that they had already reverse-engineered the U.S. ‘bot.
By the way, some (more expensive) RQ-170 models are already sold on eBay.
I don’t know the actual price, but some luxury RQ-170 models are already sold in Iran too, as shown on the Aaye Art Group here.
Above image from Aaye Art Group website.
In the meanwhile the U.S. Air Force said it has understood what caused the crash of its spy robot although it didn’t disclose details. Noteworthy, the RQ-170 is still operating in Afghanistan (and maybe even on the eastern border with Iran) meaning that they are either confident Tehran has nothing to do with the crash landing or they have fixed the technical glitch which might have been the root cause of the incident.
Even if the news of the once stealthy American drone are slightly fading, on Dec. 26, the Islamic Republic News Agency IRNA, published the images of an electric rone built by students of Islamic Azad University in the city of Heris, East Azarbaijan province.
Similar to a small-scale Learjet business jet (actually, almost identical to the Hondajet as suggested by its markings) sitting on a table, the ultra-light amateur drone is capable of flying 35-minute reconnaissance missions at night, with a maximum speed of 250 km/h and a minimum of 50 km/h. It can cover a distance of 10 km and operate at an altitude of 9,000 feet.
Powered by two electric engines and capable of flying on a single engine, the drone can scan the ground and dispatch the data to a ground station. As reported by the IRNA, according to the Head of the technical team involved in manufacturing the drone, Nasser Nazari Heris, it took only four months to design and manufacture the drone.
In the meanwhile, on Dec. 24, Iran’s Navy launched the massive 10-day naval exercise “Velayat 90” in the area stretching from the east of the Strait of Hormuz in the Persian Gulf to the Gulf of Aden. Iranian submarines, warships, and other naval vessels with their accompanying helicopters are attending the drills. I’ve read no reports about drones taking part to the exercise. So far.