(ABC News) – There’s no indication an unmanned missing U.S. drone was brought down by the Iranians through jamming or cyber attack, a senior military official told ABC News today. The military is looking at this as strictly a malfunctioning drone. They do not know what shape the drone is in, but it might be largely intact depending on the glide path.
Pentagon spokesmen George Little and Captain John Kirby told reporters today that they couldn’t go much beyond yesterday’s ISAF release about what they could say publicly about the missing U.S. drone Iran claims to possess. The release acknowledged that an unmanned drone had gone missing over western Afghanistan late last week after drone operators lost control of the aircraft.
Little explained “these are sensitive reconnaissance missions, we don’t’ talk about those missions as a general rule.”
He and Kirby declined to identify the type of aircraft involved, which is believed to be the bat-winged RQ-170. “We’re just not going to comment about the particular airframe in this case,” said Kirby. “Again as George said these are very sensitive reconnaissance missions, and as a rule we don’t talk about the specifics whether it’s air frame, mission intent or exact route.”
More below the fold …
The mystery aircraft–once referred to as the Beast of Kandahar and now identified by the U.S. Air Force as a Lockheed Martin Skunk Works RQ-170 Sentinel–flew from Kandahar’s airport, where it was photographed at least twice in 2007. It shared a hangar with Predator and Reaper UAVs being used in combat operations. On Dec. 4, three days after declassification was requested, Aviation Week revealed the program on its web site. Like Predator and Reaper, the Sentinel is remotely piloted by aircrews–in this case the 30th Reconnaissance Sqdn. (RS) at Tonopah Test Range Airport in the northwest corner of the Nevada Test and Training Range.
Surveillance aircraft can see a lot more (farther and better) with long-wave infrared if the platform can operate at 50,000 ft. or higher. The RC-135S Cobra Ball, RC-135W Rivet Joint and E-8C Joint Stars are all limited to flying lower than 30,000 ft. Moreover, the multispectral technology to examine the chemical content of rocket plumes has been miniaturized to fit easily on a much smaller aircraft. Other sensors of interest are electronically scanned array radars, low-probability-of-intercept synthetic aperture radars and signals intelligence.
With its moderately low-observable design, the aircraft would be useful for flying along the borders of Iran and peering into China, India and Pakistan to gather useful information about missile tests and telemetry, as well as garnering signals and multispectral intelligence.