The Mil & Aero Blog
Monday, December 12, 2011
  How did that get there? How Iran may have obtained their new UAV
With the RQ-170 Sentinel firmly in Iranian hand, we have to wonder what got it there.

A lack of damage to the aircraft suggests it was not fired upon, nor did it have a severe crash. The UAV's landing could have been caused by a glitch in the Army's network, or it could have been the result of electronic warfare.

Of course, Iran is claiming they shot down or hacked the UAV for violating Iranian airspace.

The idea the UAV was brought down by physical force is unlikely due to the lack of damage that was shown in Iranian photographs and video. There are, however, two more likely scenarios in the form of electronic attack or electronic failure.

Now, Iran has been subject to a few severe electronic attacks in their time. Stuxnet, a worm that was unleashed on Iran's nuclear program, proved that Iran would need to evolve their own electronic warfare if they were to compete in today's military environment. Whether this was the cause of the RQ-170's crash is yet to be determined, but the lack of evidence of a physical attack and Iran's claims do make it plausible.

While having the UAV undergo an electronic attack could possibly lead it to an easy descent directly into Iranian hands, other explanations are equally valid. The Department of Defense said they lose control of the UAV earlier in the week, and that it simply ended up descending into Iran with absolutely no control.

The UAV did not suffer a harsh crash, but it has been speculated that the aircraft would have a more leaf-like descent rather than a strict nose-dive like many other aircraft. The large wings may have slowed the vehicle and allowed it to land relatively unscathed.

Until more research has been done, how the UAV got into Iranian hands is unknown. Let's hope this was a rare mistake by the DoD and that no critical information can be gleaned from the UAV's surviving electronics.

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Both are very plausable explinations. However I believe that they will with the help of Russia and China will get all the valuable intelligence from this UAV. The President should have ordered it to be blown up as soon as it was known that it crashed landed in Iran.
Has anyone explored the possibility counterfeit electronic components the defense contractors contract manufacturers may have acquired from the preadtorial open/grey market?

When 1.8 million used and counterfeit electrical components wound up in defense applications from Airborne to ground systems... as buyers facing deadliners to deliver finished good under pressure to perform get desperate when components suddenly go short in supply...

Some buyer, somewhere may have impaired one of the communications boards used on the UAV leaving it vulnerable.. making it a crowned jewel to the Iranians.
I think it more plausible that the UAV, when lost contact with its communications link, went into autopilot and landed. Don't think for a second that the president and military would have not taken every effort (other than fly in with a MAN'ed aircraft) to destroy it. But how do you do that when you can't communicate with it?
The story assumes they actually have the UAV. An alternative is that they have some wreckage and based on that and public domain photos they faked up a model which they pretended was the intact UAV.

The Iranians have a much stronger track record in faking pictures for propaganda than mastering difficult technologies. On the other hand the guys that design UAVs are smart enough to put encryption on the comms link and have a self destruct option if it goes out of control.
You would think that part of the programme would make the UAV return to base. Here is a simple statement:

If control contact is lost,
then RTO or altlist,
else run self-destruct.exe

RTO = Return to Original departure

altlist = alternative list of secure airfields

As for how the Iranians obtained it; possibly a directional powerful EMP emitter.

But first you have to be able to see or hear the stealth UAV before you can "zap" it. Also, you have to have your EMP-zapper within range.

Or an alternative explanation:
This is part of the current administration's plans. Give them something hot to complain about, then, to make amends, open our arms to the Iranians and shun our allies.

Too much speculation.
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