Category Archives: Captured Stealth Drone

Chinese delegation currently in Iran to copy the U.S. stealthy RQ-170 drone captured in 2011.

According to the information being spread by Chinese Defense forums, a group of 17 Chinese expert would have recently arrived in Iran not only to inspect, but also to collect and bring back to China some key components of the U.S. RQ-170 drone captured by Iran in December 2011.

Indeed, Chinese technical experts had already arrived in Iran only four days after the Sentinel drone had crash landed in Iran during a spy mission. Based on the first surveys (one lasting only 40 minutes, another one four hours) the expert group prepared a list of components they need to further inspect in China in order to reverse engineer the U.S. robot.

The list would include internal hardware components; the fuselage would remain in Iran.

“The expert group composed by 17 people, of which a total of 11 are technical experts from PLA General Staff, General Armament Department and AVIC, as well as others from Chinese foreign affairs ministry and diplomats in Iran” says the China Defense Mashup site.

Although it’s extremely difficult to say whether this information is genuine, I find it extremely likely that China has already inspected the drone and tried to copy some of the technologies of the RQ-170. As already explained when commenting Iran’s claims that they had decoded the stealthy drone, while the internal memories were (probably) automatically erased as a consequence of the loss of control procedure and data will never been recovered, the circuitry, lenses, sensors have probably survived the mysterious crash landing.

Therefore they can be evaluated and tested.

And copied, one of the tasks China does better.

Possibly unknown/damaged drone spotted at Lockheed Martin's Advanced Development Program Facility (on the same day Iran captured a U.S. stealthy RQ-170)

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.

Located next to an F-16 (mock-up?), there is a covered object whose shape is quite similar to the one of the RQ-170 Sentinel, the stealthy drone captured in Iran at the beginning of December 2011.

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 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).

[Updated] U.S. Stealthy RQ-170 model on display at Tehran in Feb.11 Rallies. With extracted landing gear.

On Feb.11, a model of the U.S. stealthy RQ-170 drone captured on Dec. 4, 2011, was displayed at Tehran during the pro-government rallies marking the 33rd anniversary of the victory of the Islamic Revolution.

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.

Image credit: Fars news agency

Iran to return the captured stealthy RQ-170 Sentinel drone to the U.S. As a scale model.

Update Jan. 17 13:15 GMT

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.

This is not the first time a U.S. stealthy aircraft becomes a scale model. You’ll remember the Stealth Black Hawk model by the Chinese Dragon.

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.