New pictures published today on the Secret Projects forum provide a better view of the Lockheed Martin RQ-170 Sentinel operating from the Kandahar airfield in Afghanistan. Bill Sweetman of Aviation Week, who gave the RQ-170 the nickname ‘The Beast’, estimate the RQ-170 size to match the MQ-9A Reaper, and assumes the two aircraft carry a similar payload, although the ‘Beast’ would have shorter mission endurance given its thirsty jet propulsion.
Sweetman assesses the level of signature reduction (‘stealth’) to be ‘moderate’, the side views of the aircraft show the belly fairing which looks lite it houses an electro-optical/infrared sensor at the front. A side looking AESA radar could be housed behind it, in the belly supporting all-weather, high resolution radar-imaging by Synthetic Aperture Radar processing. While the new photos provide a better view of the airplane they do not help solving the mystery about the overwing fairings nor does it offer a clue about what is hidden beneath.
“One possibility: they contain antennas that can be rotated, when not in use, to reduce their reflectivity, given that the best bandwidth-selective radome can only do so much. So if your UAV is being illuminated by radar, you turn to place that radar on one side of the aircraft and use the antenna on the opposite, “shadow” side of the aircraft to communicate.” Sweetman speculate. “Both the satellite links and the belly fairing could be modular payloads, making it possible to configure the aircraft for strike missions or to carry a high-power microwave source – such as the one mentioned in this Lockheed Martin news release as “requiring an aerial delivery platform”. It could also be an effective “stand-in” jamming platform to support other aircraft.” He concludes in his Ares blog post. These photos where provided by members of the British Secretprojects blog.