Tag Archives: Iran

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.


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?


Image credit: Sepahnews, @Azematt







Russian Tu-22 bombers deploy to Iran and launch first air strikes on ISIS in Syria

Russian Air Force Tu-22M3 strategic bombers forward deployed to Iran have launched their first air strike on Daesh in Syria: old-fashioned carpet bombing.

Russian Air Force Tu-22M3 strategic bombers have been involved in the air strikes in Syria since Moscow has started pounding Islamic State militants last year.

The aircraft have carried out carpet bombings dropping OFAB-250-270 and FAB-500M-62 iron bombs on their targets.

Operating from Engels and Modzok airbases in southwestern Russia, the aircraft had to cover a distance close to 3,000 km. According to some sources, the aircraft were thus supported by several Il-78M aerial refuelers on their way to the targets and back: actually, it’s not clear whether the Backfire could be refueled since the retractable probe in the upper part of the nose was reportedly removed as a result of the SALT negotiations, but it can be reinstated if needed.

On Aug. 15, the first images of a contingent of 6 Tu-22M3 bombers forward deployed to Hamedan Air Base in western Iran, along with supporting Il-76 airlifters, emerged.

On Aug. 16, the Russian MoD confirmed that the Backfire aircraft deployed to Iran performed an air strike around the besieged city of Deir-ez-Zor in eastern Syria.

Based on the footage that was released after the first mission, the Tu-22s were escorted by some Su-30SM Flankers derivatives (launched from Latakia airbase), as happened during the previous airstrikes of the RuAF Tu-22s, Tu-160s and Tu-95s.

Under the newly signed agreement with Iran, Russian bombers will be able to cut their flight time by 60%, saving money and increasing the ops tempo: the current distance to Syria is roughly 900 km, meaning that more bombs can be loaded in the round-trip mission from Iran.

Hmeymim airbase, near Latakia, that has been the headquarters of the Russian aircraft since October last year was unable to accommodate the large (34m wingspan) Russian supersonic, variable-sweep wing, long-range strategic bombers.

Image credit: Dmitriy Pichugin/Wiki




Israeli F-16I pilots use Greece’s S-300 SAMs to prepare for potential Iran air strikes

Israeli F-16I pilots get S-300 training opportunity

The Israeli Air Force has used INIOXOS-2015, one the largest annual exercise of the Hellenic Air Force, to prepare for a potential situation where it will have to attack Iranian nuclear facilities by performing missions against the S-300PMU-1 surface-to-air missile system, stationed in Crete, according to Flightglobal.

Russia has recently lifted the ban on sale of S-300 systems to Iran.

The S-300 is a mobile air defense system that couples a radars capable to track multiple targets with long-range missiles to hit aerial targets at a distance of 150 km and an altitude up to 27,000 meters. Although well-known to the western air forces, it remains a lethal SAM system that Iran could field to protect its nuclear sites.

From Apr. 20 to 30, at least 150 combat planes from all Combat Wings/Squadrons of the HAF performed various missions, day and night, such as Counter Air Operations against Integrated Air Defence Systems, Anti Surface Force Air Operations, Fighter Sweep, HVAAE (High Value Asset Air Escort), Combat Search and Rescue (CSAR), Time Sensitive Targets, Dynamic Targeting – Time Sensitive Targets.

Israel deployed 10 F-16I Sufa jets from four Squadrons (201 «The One», 253 «The Negev», 107 «The Knights of the Orange Tail» and 119 «The Bat) at the 117 Combat Wing/Andravida Air Base and U.S. Air Force in Europe dispatched a number of SF personnel as JTACs (Joint Terminal Attack Controllers).

The Israeli AF Commander Maj Gen Amir Eshel visited the troops and flew at least one mission over Aegean Sea along with his Greek counterpart Lt Gen Christos Vaitsis (with F-16D Block52+ ADV of 335 Sq. “Tiger”).

Thanks to the exercise in Greece (not the first attended by the Israeli since the deterioration of their relations with Turkey), the Israeli Air Force has gathered important data about the Russian SAM system and had the opportunity to test and improve evasion tactics during simulated attacks against ground targets protected by S-300 batteries.

H/T e-Amyna for the heads-up

F-16I in Greece

Image credit: IAF and HAF


Iran destroys mock U.S. aircraft carrier in naval wargames

Do you remember Iran’s mock Nimitz class flattop? Here’s what it was built for.

On Feb. 25, a mock U.S. aircraft carrier, was destroyed by missiles launched by Iran’s Islamic Revolution Guards Corps missiles during the IRGC Navy’s massive Payambar-e Azam 9 (The Great Prophet 9) drills in the Persian Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz.

The model had first appeared in April last year, when images of the mock USS Nimitz class ship being assembled in an Iranian shipyard on the Persian Gulf had spread through social media.

Although the purpose of the fake carrier was not clear back then we mentioned the possibility the giant warship (adorned with several airplanes) might have built to test weapons or serve as a training tool to develop tactics to attack a U.S. flattop in the Persian Gulf exploiting its vulnerabilities.

According to the FARS News Agency, the model came under attack and was destroyed by missiles and rockets fired from tens of IRGC speedboats; also a number of the IRGC cruise and two ballistic missiles were fired at the mock US aircraft carrier.

H/T to Giuliano Ranieri for the heads-up


“Several U-2 spyplanes shooed away by our missile systems” Iran says

According to a senior Iranian commander, several reconnaissance aircraft, including some U-2 spyplanes, have been frighten away by Tehran air defenses as they flew close to Iran’s airspace.

On Dec. 22, General Shahrokh Shahram, Lieutenant Commander of Khatam ol-Anbia Air Defense Base said that Iran’s air defense units scared away several surveillance planes, including some U.S. U-2 Dragon Lady spyplanes that were flying near the borders of Tehran FIR (Flight Information Region).

“During yesterday and today [Dec. 21 and 22] warnings have been issued to several reconnaissance aircraft of the trans-regional states which were flying near the FIR (Flight Information Region) of the country’s borders[..] Some of these were U-2 spyplanes” Shahram said according to FNA (Fars News Agency).

FNA speculates the aircraft may be spying on Iran ahead of “Mohammad Rasoulallah (PBUH)” drills, scheduled between Dec. 25 and 31.

Earlier this month an Iranian top officer, Air Defense Commander Brigadier General Farzad Esmayeeli, said that a U-2 “stealth aircraft” flying close to Iran’s airspace was tracked, warned and somehow forced to make a U-turn by Iranian missile systems, “even though this type of plane can’t be picked up by any radar screen.”

Coated with RAM (Radar Absorbing Material) and designed to be hard to detect on radars, the U.S. Air Force U-2 is not considered a real stealth aircraft, even if it embeds radar-evading features.

U.S. Air Force U-2s have been operating in the region for years departing from Al Dhafra airbase in the UAE.

Along with a certain number of indigenous systems under development, Iranian air defenses include a mixture of Soviet and Western surface-to-air missile systems. Among them the HQ-2 (CSA-1 GUIDELINE, a Chinese-produced S-75 derivative – the SAM systems which downed Gary Power’s U-2 back in 1960) and the S-200 (SA-5 GAMMON) both theoretically capable of shooting down a high-flying target.

Indeed, although it may struggle against cruise missiles and modern stealth bombers, especially if accompanied by significant EW (Electronic Warfare) support, Iran’s air defense system, with its batteries along the coast (one of those is Bandar Abbas in the south of the country) can pose a significant threat to several aircraft, including U-2s or UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles) flying over the Persian Gulf and the strategic Strait of Hormuz.

Iran reportedly shot down an Israeli drone near Natanz nuclear enrichment facility in central Iran last August. Finding the small drone is like finding needle in a haystack General Esmayeeli said addressing a students gathering on Dec. 7. “We should take good care not to harm passenger planes when identifying and shooting down such drones,” he said.

A classified Pentagon report obtained by The New York Times in 2012 claimed that Iranian SAM batteries had fired at civil planes at least three times between 2007 and 2008.

Image credit: Lockheed Martin