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The Impact of Iran's Capture of the US RQ-170 Stealth Drone

Updated on December 8, 2011

Well, Iran finally has displayed the nearly intact US RQ-170 Stealth Drone to the world, proving not only do they have it and its top secrets, but also they managed through electronic warfare managed to take control and land it safely with minimal damage.

Both the US and Israel are dumbfounded, speechless.

This creates many issues about Iran's capabilities. Iran is clearly a smart IT adversary dressed in the radical Islamic garb. They spend millions of sophisticated Russian and Chinese technology both military and civilian. Their engineers, many trained in the West, are very well paid to reverse engineer and decode this technology for their own use and slap a Persian name on it. There is no question the capture of the RQ-170 is a debacle for the US. It uses the same stealth coatings to deflect and make invisible to radar the aircraft's presence. There is no question that soon the Russians and Chinese will have their techies taking it apart and learning the secrets to mimic. Not good. Iranian officials said the drone was detected near the Iranian town of Kashmar, 200 kilometers from the Afghan border. How did they know? How were they able to land it? Why was its self-destruct capability not activated when the US found it missing? Serious stuff that need answers.

Obviously, the US has underestimated Iran's capabilities. The incident shows that the technology they get from US rivals is as good as ours or, Iran has been able to add to them. The example shows maybe Iran's nuclear desire is maybe more dangerous than we thought and more closer to it happening. The incident also creates a deep divide between the US and Israel about an attack on Iran's nuke sites.The US is taking the time costly route of sanctions and using covert actions. Israel is taking the "time is of the essence" view. Now, the capture of the RQ-170 poses a dilemma for such an attack. Does Israel attack sooner than they wanted because of the data inside the drone, which reveals targets. Or, should it be called off, as Iran will know the targets and more, making such an attack even more risky and maybe futile?

Soon, Iran will know about the stealth coating, its sensors and cameras, but also the data stored in its computer about which targets are marked out by the US and/or Israeli for attack. The RQ-170 had a self-destruct mechanism to prevent its secrets spilling out to the enemy in the event of a crash or capture. This did not happen. Obama decided not to go ahead with a commando operation to destroy the drone fearing it would spark a war. Well, it is coming, sooner than later, but at least Iran would not have the data and secrets.

It is more likely than not, Israel will do what they think is necessary. They will strike fast and secretly. That has always been their MO. It is why they were the victors in all of the Arab-Israeli wars. This time, they may act alone. Now the pressure to act is even more acute.


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    • profile image

      Naeem 6 years ago

      I am sorry sir, israel is not invincible hezbullah whooped israel to bits they left crying like a bunch of babies. Further proof israel never leaves territory they follow they old leader ben gurion advice take it all. twice they were kicked out of lebanon they were delath a loss.

    • profile image

      tommy 6 years ago

      another false flag by the american goverment ..they should not be sending drones over asoviern state..but dont worrie they atavated the fema camps now in america..for the dumbed down american public..nwo arsholes...

    • Abdul Muqeet Khan profile image

      Abdul Muqeet Khan 6 years ago from islamabad

      well i has scared the shit out of the arabs and stirr the sleepy heads in america and isreal thats true thinking logically do u guys even consider the possibility of war with iran i mean hell the iran is no iraq or afghanistan thats for sure its tech is indeed 1 gen but that not the stopping point the point is that itsarmy is indeed an army not a rag tag militia and cross my heart on it the shiite from pakistan will join the war no mattter how strongly pakistan tryes to curb it after all the puushtoon from pak side also went to the other side of the border so lets see what happens

    • perrya profile image

      perrya 6 years ago

      The thing about Iran is that we really do not know what their capabilities really are. We have a good idea, but that means little if those are incorrect. If there was some way to stir its people to revolt as they tried before.

    • moiragallaga profile image

      Moira Garcia Gallaga 6 years ago from Lisbon, Portugal

      This indeed an interesting development perrya, and one that bears watching in the months to come. While capturing a drone intact (if it is indeed the real thing) and obtaining access to its technology is cause for concern, what intrigues me more was Iran's ability to use cyber or electronic warfare to gain control of the drone. Correct me if I'm wrong, they didn't shoot it down but took control over it. Taking control over a military asset such as an unmanned drone is not a far step away from taking control over computer systems. I think wreaking havoc on electronic systems and infrastructure is a more urgent threat compared to having nukes. Just imagine the air traffic control system being shut down?

      As for kschang's point b about Iran attempting to influence the area, that is a given. However, that is also a development that Saudi Arabia and its Sunni allies in the region are not comfortable about. So there are still other cards to play, if done correctly, in terms of reining in the spread of Shiite influence in the region under the aegis of Iran.

      As I mentioned early in this comment, interesting developments up ahead...

    • perrya profile image

      perrya 6 years ago

      Many authorities say it is the real deal and not all of them are black.

    • kschang profile image

      kschang 6 years ago from San Francisco, CA, USA

      A couple more thoughts

      a) US officials have been remarking to various news outlets that the Iranian presentation is a fake, as those who know spotted some differences between that and the real thing.

      On the other hand, it's exactly what you'd expect them to say, if that thing is indeed real.

      My problem with the photo: that skin is too shiny. AFAIK, all modern Stealth aircraft have a dull dark gray non-reflective paint (except F/A-117 and B-2, which use black). That doesn't seem to match the photo.

      b) It is natural for Iran to attempt to influence the area. It is... their "manifest destiny", so to speak, much old the US manifest destiny to spread west and then southwest. Part of it is historical: Persian Empire and all that. Part of it is self-protection, and part of that is just religion / ideology. The "modern" Iran was shaped by Shah and his "backer", the US of A.

      When US deposed Saddam Hussein in Iraq, we left a vacuum in place that naturally Iran wants to fill. Iraq had been fighting Iran to a standstill. If Saddam Hussein hadn't invaded Kuwait Iraq would still be Iran's foil today.

      That's an "unintended consequence" that GW may not have anticipated.

    • perrya profile image

      perrya 6 years ago

      I really feel like history is repeating-thinking how Hitler was appeased by the UK and France as Germany started its takeover in the late 1930s.

    • aslaught profile image

      aslaught 6 years ago from Alabama

      Good article! Iran just scares the stew out of me. They have for many years.

    • perrya profile image

      perrya 6 years ago

      All good questions, no answers...

    • kschang profile image

      kschang 6 years ago from San Francisco, CA, USA

      Just a thought... What if that's a fake mockup? After all, the dimensions of this thing is pretty well an open secret. And you can't tell much from looking whether it's real or not.

      Further food for thought: is this related to that "trojan on drone control stations" that was found a while back?

      Last food for thought of the day: did Iran hit us with cyberwarfare in retaliation for Stuxnet?

    • perrya profile image

      perrya 6 years ago

      yes, a lot reasons to be concerned. The coatings are similar to those on the new F-35.

    • AgWriter82 profile image

      AgWriter82 6 years ago from New Jersey

      You raise an interesting point: not only does Iran benefit from capturing this technology. Their military suppliers will also have access to it. Scary.