Iran’s semi-official news agencies released today some details about a possible intercept and downing of a U.S. RQ-170 Sentinel jet-powered stealth unmanned aerial vehicle. Iran’s semi-official news agency Press TV quoted a senior official saying the Iran’s electronic warfare unit successfully targeted the Sentinel drone after it crossed into Iranian airspace over the Eastern border with Afghanistan. The Iranians claim they have seized the recce drone with minimum damage. The next day (December 6) the U.S. confirmed it was an RQ-170 was lost on operation in Western Afghanistan (Ares).
The U.S. Air Force has been operating the Sentinel, built by Lockheed Martin, from the Afghan air base in Kandahar at least since 2009. The Iranian agency quoted the unnamed official saying Iran will not limit its response to such violations within its borders. According to the CNN, the stealth drone was operating on covert CIA missions when contact was lost. It wasn’t clear whether the drone was flying inside Iranian territory or flying over Afghanistan, toward the Iranian border when contact was lost.
According to Flight International DEW Line blog by Stephen Trimble, Iran has recently received a shipment of Russian 1L222 Avtobaza, a ground mobile electronic intelligence system, designed to spoof airborne fire control and ‘side looking’ radars (commonly referring to synthetic aperture radars); It is also capable of intercepting weapon datalink communications operating on similar wavebands. The new gear may have helped the Iranians employ active deception/jamming to intercept and ‘hijack’ the Sentinel’s control link.
A possible confirmation for the loss of the UAV came from across the border, as an official statement by the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) stated “The UAV to which the Iranians are referring may be a US unarmed reconnaissance aircraft that had been flying a mission over western Afghanistan late last week. The operators of the UAV lost control of the aircraft and had been working to determine its status,” read the statement titled “ISAF Releases Statement on Missing Unmanned Aerial Vehicle”.
On December 8 Tehran came out open displaying footage of the captured drone which seems in pristine condition (below).
Having the mysterious drone in hand, the Iranians were likely extra careful inspecting it after Iranian officers were killed when inspecting a captured Israeli drone at a Hezbollah compound in South Lebanon. The drone, supposedly rigged with explosives exploded at the base causing significant damage and claiming the lives of several Lebanese and Iranian intelligence officers.