Category Archives: Captured Stealth Drone

Captured U.S. stealth drone: let's analyze the latest pictures. Real robot with few foam parts? Last hope: a trojan horse

As some U-2 spyplanes are landing in RAF Fairford on their way to some Middle East forward operating base (to undertake some reconnaissance missions over Iran, replacing the RQ-170 drone?), let’s have a closer look at the high-resolution pictures I published yesterday.

First of all, let me tell you that I believe the one showed by the Iranian Republican Guards is not a fake. Even if, as I will explain, there are still some details quite difficult to explain, the main reasons why I believe that is the actual drone “lost” during a reconnaissance mission are:

First it’s extremely accurate. Considering the small amount of details previously known, I don’t think Iran could be able to create a mock up in such a short time. The news of the downed drone came from Iran and it was later confirmed by U.S. sources (even if details differ). If news had spread in the opposite direction probability of an off-the-shelf 1:1 model made available for cameras would have been higher

Second if it were a fake or reproduction, why would Iran give it this desert/beige scheme when previous pics showed a (dark) grey scheme?

Now, what do pictures tell us about the downed drone?

I’m not an intelligence officer nor a professional photo analyst but with the help of the several thousand visitors of this website (and in particular “CalebS”) that commented the previous posts or sent me emails, I think I’m able to identify some noteworthy details, deliberately ignoring considerations about the actual drone shape.

1) the robot is stored in a sort of gym. For sure it is not a hangar or aircraft recovery shelter. Floors are polished wood with a painted circle that seems to be in the center of the room. If that is true is raises some interesting questions such as the (visible) doors are not big enough to get the plane in. Especially when you consider the size of the room and the size of the
main door in the photo. Furthermore:
a. The windows in the top of photo 3-2 have steel wire protecting them
b. Seats of some sort in the bottom of 3-2
c. Complete lack of security except for the 2 guys and the camera man
d. Several speakers on the wall

2) There are signs of water or clear liquid on the floor which is both extremely interesting and weird.
3) The most interesting thing is there are bits of foam on the floor and camo net that I have highlighted (see point 4 below)
4) Wing damage on the right wing (left side of 3-2) looks like it was seriously damaged/separated from the fuselage yet the damage looks more like the wing was cut off (to get in the building or transport it after recovery?) then a crashand shear. Too clean. Another possibility is that some parts of the drone are . As pointed out by a visitor if you look at photo “3″ and the banner on the starboard side wing: looks like the banner is “pinned” to the wing as if the wing is made of foam.
5) Probably, the bottom of the airframe is carefully hidden because the drone was seriously damaged as a consequence of the crash landing. Why did the Iranians want to cover it? Maybe because the type of damage would be coherent with a belly landing, without an extended undercarriage. This would prove that the drone was not remotely controlled by Iranian operators that have been able to disrupt the satellite link and guide it to a “safe” landing. On the other side, a completely uncontrolled landing would have had more evident effects on the airframe.

Quite likely, as soon as the Iranians found the drone, before any U.S. could find it to secure and blow it up, they may had cut the wings off to transport it as quickly as possible to a safe location, hidden from spy-sats. Maybe they had to remove some any self-destruction mechanism or GPS tracking system. They studied the inside of the drone to find out some details about its cameras, communication suite, storage capability, etc. and then repaired and prepared it to show it to the public.

There’s one last possibility (let’s say an American “hope”): the drone is real but it was deliberately sent and made crash in Iran as a sort of trojan horse, carrying malware or other Stuxnet-like viruses. A bit far fetched but intriguing.

Stay tuned.

This, along with all the previous articles on the Sentinel drone in Iran, can be found with the following link: https://theaviationist.com/category/captured-stealth-drone/

05:25PM GMT update

Artist Ugo Crisponi has sent me the following image he created after noticing that almost all artworks and renderings available to date have a minor flaw: the nose of the drone is drawn as convex with the two sections of the fuselage forming a pyramid section. However, as one of the previously available images taken at Kandahar shows, the actual nose is concave.

Exclusive: first high-resolution close-up pictures of the stealth drone in Iran. With signs of belly landing.

After reading my previous article about the RQ-170 seized by Iran (Breaking: Iran news agency releases first images of captured U.S. stealthy drone), “Jeff” a visitor of my site suggested where to download the first hi-resolution pictures of the almost intact “Beast of Kandahar”.

Images seems to confirm that the drone is real, of a desert-like color (quite different from the dark grey one of all the previous pictures) and above all, small scratches appear on the left wing, as if the stealthy drone crash landed on its belly, without extracting the landing gear, or maybe because the undercarriage collapsed due to hard landing.

Update: weird signs appear also on both wing roots as if they were damaged too. Someone suggesting it is putty and that proves the drone is just a 1:1 scale model.

Once again, stay tuned.

Image credit: via “Jeff” for TheAviationist.com

Breaking: Iran news agency releases first images of captured U.S. stealthy drone

Here they are.

The first images released by an Iran news agency of what should be the U.S. RQ-170 drone crash landed in Iran on Sunday. Noteworthy, the drone wears a sort of desert color scheme much different from the dark grey one applied to the example photographed years ago at Kandahar airbase. According to sources  the recovery team couldn’t find it to blow it up before it went into Iranian hands.

A video is available here (you’ll find some screenshots below, showing Iranian soldiers inspecting the almost intact robot).

Update: for those asking if it is a fake. No, I think it’s real. If it was fake they would do it in dark grey (as in all available pics to date).

Stealthy drone crash in Iran update: "The recovery team couldn’t find it to blow it up" source says

Even if official sources have already confirmed that a (stealthy) US robot was lost, it is still unclear whether the RQ-170’s mission took it over Iran where it was downed/crash landed, or it violated  the Iranian airspace “accidentally”, because of technical failures.

While the possibility that it was hacked and guided to Iran by Iranian special cyber forces is still under debate, a visitor of this site (using a nickname but providing a valid and known email address) provided an interesting explaination on the Sentinel and the way it is operated.

First of all he said that Sentinel has no self-kill switch hence self-destruction is not part of the procedure intended to take care of a lost ‘bot.

Then, he added:

“Temporary loss of satellite connection is common and the drone will orbit on a preplanned route until connection is re-established. If the connection is never re-established then the aircraft will eventually run out of fuel and crash. This can happen if the the encryption keys are invalidated during rollover and were not properly loaded (among other possibilities). Prior to fuel exhaustion, standard procedure is to perform classified data erase, followed by software data erase. A recovery team is supposed to follow up and secure it or blow it up.

In this case it appears the recovery team couldn’t find it.”

After receiving the above comment I’ve tried to contact the reader (who has already mailed me in the past and commented about some technical details of my articles – btw he’s quite competent) in order to better understand whether he knows for sure a recovery team was dispatched to secure the “Beast of Kandahar” before it went in wrong hands or it was just an hypothesis based on the normal operating procedures (with the most likely possibility being the latter). Unfortunately, he decided it was better not to reply.

Although the theory of a special team infiltrating in Iran to recover the lost UAS (Unmanned Aerial System) is quite intriguing, maybe it’s even a bit far fetched. It’s hard to believe that any U.S. troops would be cleared with “boots on the ground” behind the enemy lines in a period of crisis.

However, a CIA operation, backed by local people (dissidents), that would confirm that the US have joined the on-going Israel’s covert war on Iran involving computer viruses and drones, is not completely impossible .

Until a few months ago even a secret operation in Pakistan involving special forces and assets, involving a brand new stealthy chopper, would have seemed more suited to a movie script than something likely to happen. But history proved that reality can be stranger than fiction.

Dealing with the possibility that a rogue GPS can be used to to fool the drone to think it’s on the pre-planned course to base when in fact going on the opposite direction, the same reader, who defined himself “a guy with some knowledge” says:

“The UAV uses a an intertial nav system just like normal aircraft. Typically GPS aids the INS with the aircraft navigation solution, so if you were able to impersonate GPS, then you’d get some hybrid of the 2 solutions and it wouldn’t go where you wanted it. But the problem is even harder because this is mil-gps so you need the P-code encryption keys. Even worse, you need to somehow jam the real satellites while still allowing your impersonated gps to reach the aircraft…not easy to do on the ground, but pretty much impossible when the drone is at altitude.”

Can the RQ-170 Sentinel be reverse-engineered as probably attempted by China with the Stealth Black Hawk? If it is almost intact, it can be useful to get a much closer look. However, unlike the radar evading chopper crash landed at Abbottabad, the Sentinel is not “new”. Hence its shape is known, its materials not so different from many others widely used on some of the current very well known stealth planes. Probably, the most interesting things are those inside it, like the onboard cameras or the satellite guidance systems with all the communication suites and encryption modules.

But if it was intact we would see the pictures of it right now.

Stay tuned. This story is not over.

Image source: AW&ST

Salva

Iran seizes a U.S. Stealth Drone by taking over controls. Maybe… And what about that Predator virus?

According to the Iranian Fars news agency, on Dec. 4, Iran’s army downed a U.S. remotely controlled spyplane, along the country’s eastern border. Although no image of the wreckage was released so far, the American drone was described as an intruding RQ-170 Sentinel, first spotted in Afghanistan in 2007 and since then dubbed the “Beast of Kandahar”.

This is the fourth time this year Iran claims to have shot down a U.S. drone. No images have ever been released of the previous downed drone hence, unless a photographic evidence is disclosed, we can’t be sure a downing did happen.

The spy drone is currently seized “with very little damage” meaning that, provided a drone was really lost in Iran, it was not hit by any anti-aircraft system. Indeed, unless it was an extremely lucky shot, I think Iran has not the equipment and capability to intercept and destroy a radar evading Sentinel. Most probably, the robot suffered some kind of failure or lost satellite guidance during a covert surveillance mission: an almost conventional mission of the long lasting unconventional stealth war to the Iranian nuclear program.

Noteworthy, according to an unnamed military official quoted by state TV, Iran’s cyber warfare unit managed to take over controls of the Sentinel and bring it down. Is it possible? Maybe, otherwise I would not explain why the RQ-170 was not remotely destroyed with a kill-switch reportedly used on such systems to prevent them from going in the wrong hands. Such self-destruction systems are designed to bring down the drone should its pilot lose satellite link from the mobile ground control station.

The stealthy UAS (Unmanned Aerial System) is one of the most precious of the U.S. arsenal and it is believed to have taken part in Operation Neptune’s Spear (or “Operation Geronimo”) the Navy SEALs raid for the capture of Osama Bin Laden, that revealed the existence of the famous Stealth Black Hawk.

The RQ-170 is flown by Air Combat Command’s 432nd Wing at Creech Air Force Base, Nev., and the 30th Reconnaissance Squadron at Tonopah Test Range, Nev. Creech AFB is the same from where MQ-1 Predators, those whose mobile ground control stations were infected with a computer virus.

If the most important U.S. drones suffered a malware attack are we sure Sentinels can’t be hacked by Iranian military?

First, we have to be sure an RQ-170 was really downed….

Update: someone asked me to explain what I meant for “hacking” a Sentinel.

I’m not suggesting someone was able to hack the drone and land it. Maybe disrupting/jamming the satellite link with the mobile ground control station and inhibit its self-destruction system would be enough. Then, the uncontrolled drone could crash land with minor damages.

Image source: Internet