Tag Archives: Iran

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


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

Computer viruses, mysterious bomb blasts, assassinations and PSYOPS: Israel's stealth war on Iran already begun?

When writing about Iran’s nuclear weapons program, many analysts and journalists seem to forget that, although not of the type one might expect, the attack against Tehran nuke sites has already kicked off. Many still believe that a conventional military action against Iran is a future possibility forgetting that a long lasting hi-tech war in the region is (most probably) already in progress.

Last October, about 20 military personnel were killed in a blast at a Revolutionary Guards annunition depot. On Nov. 12, an explosion at Bid Ganeh, a military base located in the outskirs of Tehran killed General Hassan Tehrani Moqaddam, head of Iran’s missile defense program along with 30 other people. Few days ago, another blast in Isfahan, Iran’s third-largest city, could have hit a uranium conversion site.

Israel is also widely held as responsible for using the Stuxnet virus to target Iran’s nuclear plants.

There also have been many other mysterious episodes: home and abroad assassinations and plane accidents as the one involving the Tupolev 134 that crashed near Petrozavodsk on June 21 while carrying five Russian scientists who assisted in the design of Iran’s Bushehr nuclear power plant.

Even if some of these incidents have been denied by the ayatollahs’ regime, their frequency and effectiveness is causing frustration among Iranians, appearantly unable to react to an invisible, unknown and sophisticated multi-directional and multi-dimensional attack. Hence, the new kind of war is also having the same psychological effects of a complex PSYOPS mission.

Israel has never confirmed its direct involvement in it but it is quite likely that the hi-tech stealth war is the only way to sabotage Ahmadinejad’s program preventing Iran’s “fierce, protracted and multi-pronged” retaliation.

Still, what tech was used to attack the nuclear plants remains an unanswered question. An intriguing theory (no more than that, please!) that was inspired by a talk with Giuliano Ranieri is that some killer Micro Air Vehicles, or MAVs, known to be under development by Israel for counter-terrorism activities could have been developed and used against the Iranian sites, even if such drones are not be capable to perform long range missions and could not be used for this kind of covert ops unless they are launched from the vicinity of the target or from a sort of “mothership” (another larger drone). By the way, did you know that Israeli UAVs can be remotely controlled by flying F-15s or AH-64 Apaches?

It is also possible that the recent attacks involved one or more Dolphin Class submarines in the Red Sea (or Persian Gulf) capable of launching Popeye Turbo cruise missiles at 1,500 km from underwater.

Anyway the use of Israeli combat planes, “normal” drones and so on,  is probably a “last resort” option, not only because it would cause an almost certain retaliatory attack using medium-range ballistic missiles, possibly armed with chemical, biological or radiological warheads, but also because it would be an extremely complex operation to plan and execute, even for a combat proven air force, with past experience on long range raids.

Too many combat aircraft, too many air-to-air refueling planes and support planes to go unnoticed.

And what about the route? Even if the US withdrawal from Iraq would give clearance to a raid on that direction, it’s hard to believe that a strike package would pass undetected by an air defense on a heightned readiness status during ingress and egress from their targets. Unless the Israeli have improved their already effective EW capabilities, the same that during Operation Orchard, on Sept. 6, 2007, let the 10 F-15Is attack a nuclear facility being built in Syria completely undetected.

An attack that Israel has never publicly confirmed.