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Iran rebuffs skepticism with a detailed description of attack, which experts call "certainly possible"

"You are going to tell me what I want to know, it's just a matter of how much you want it to hurt."
— Jack Bauer, 24

It sounds like a scene out of a spy movie -- highly trained national paramilitary operatives harshly testing a foreign agent until they break and do their bidding. But that's exactly what Iran is claiming it did to a U.S. Central Intelligence Agency spy drone.

In an unconfirmed, yet fascinating report in The Christian Science Monitor, an unnamed "Iranian engineer" claims that Iran used its torture testing from past crashed drones to break the captured drone and bend it to the command of the Iranian authorities, forcing it into a soft landing so they could probe the secrets of its fully intact body.

I. Iran warned the U.S. of its Capabilities

The report points to claims Iran made in September that it was able to "take control" of U.S. guided weapons or surveillance devices.  

Iranian Gen. Moharam Gholizadeh, the deputy for electronic warfare at the air defense headquarters of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), told the Far News, "We have a project on hand that is one step ahead of jamming, meaning 'deception' of the aggressive systems... we can define our own desired information for it so the path of the missile would change to our desired destination...all the movements of these [enemy drones are being watched]" and "obstructing" their work was "always on our agenda."

At the time the claims by Iran -- under pressure for its suspected nuclear weapons development program -- were largely dismissed as factless national rhetoric.  

Similarly, when Iranian state-run media revealed last week that it had captured a U.S. intelligence drone, many experts sneered at Iran's claims that it "hacked" the drone.  Remarked an analyst to the Defense News, "[it'd be] like dropping a Ferrari into an ox-cart technology culture."

But while the detailed description of the "electronic ambush" from the interview with the Iranian engineer has not been verified by U.S. military officials, the U.S. gov't and public are now forced to set aside their prejudices and look at those claims far more seriously.

Iran's captured drone
[Image Source: Sepahnews/AP]

According to the source, the first thing the Middle Eastern nation's "cyberwarfare experts" did was to jam the drone's signal.  While the report does not specifically mention this, the engineer's claims of using past crashed drones to derive the attack indicate that Iranian experts may have used drones to determine the encrypted control frequencies that the drone was communicating on.

Further evidence that adversaries in the region are on to U.S. UAV feed frequencies comes from the fact that in 2009 Iraqi Shiite militants intercepted live, unencrypted video feeds off a U.S. predator drone, using only off-the-shelf hardware.  At the time, Iranian involvement was suspected.

In July and in 2010 Iran claimed to have shot down drones hovering near its nuclear facitilities.

II. "Downing Drones 101"

Using its knowledge of the frequency, the engineer claims, Iran intiated its "electronic ambush" by jamming the bird's communications frequencies, forcing it into auto-pilot.  States the source, "By putting noise [jamming] on the communications, you force the bird into autopilot. This is where the bird loses its brain."

The team then use a technique known as "spoofing" -- sending a false signal for the purposes of obfuscation or other gain.  In this case the signal in questions was the GPS feed, which the drone commonly acquires from several satellites.  By spoofing the GPS feed, Iranian officials were able to convince it that it was in Afghanistan, close to its home base.  At that point the drone's autopilot functionality kicked in and triggered the landing.  But rather than landing at a U.S. military base, the drone victim instead found itself captured at an Iranian military landing zone.

Spoofing the GPS is a clever method, as it allows hackers to "land on its own where we wanted it to, without having to crack the [encrypted] remote-control signals and communications."

Iran's captured drone
[Image Source: Reuters]

While the technique did not require sophistication from a cryptography perspective, it was not entirely trivial, either, as it required precise calculations to be made to give the drone the proper forged distance and find and fine an appropriate altitude landing strip to make sure the drone landed as it did in Afghanistan.  The Iranian engineers knew the details of the landing site, because the drone had been confirmed in grainy photos to be landing at a base in Khandar, Afghanistan.

Despite the careful calculations, the drone still sustained a dent in its wing and underbody (though it did not have the usual signs of a high-speed collision).  During its press conferences, the Iranian military covered this damage with anti-American banners.

Iranian TV
[Image Source: Iranian state television]

The engineer explained this damage commenting, "If you look at the location where we made it land and the bird's home base, they both have [almost] the same altitude.  There was a problem [of a few meters] with the exact altitude so the bird's underbelly was damaged in landing; that's why it was covered in the broadcast footage."

The approach echoes an October security conference presentation [PDF] in Chicago, in which ETH Zurich researchers laid out how to use interference and GPS spoofing to more gently down a drone.

III. Is the West "Underestimating" Iran?

Iran warns that the west is underestimating its growing technlogical prowess.  A former senior official is quoted as saying, "There are a lot of human resources in Iran.... Iran is not like Pakistan."

Deputy IRGC commander Gen. Hossein Salami, stated this week, "Technologically, our distance from the Americans, the Zionists, and other advanced countries is not so far [as] to make the downing of this plane seem like a dream for us … but it could be amazing for others."

The Christian Science Monitor report cites an unnamed European intelligence source as claiming that Iran in an unreported incident managed to "blind" a CIA spy satellite by "aiming a laser burst quite accurately" at its optics.  And in September Google Inc.'s (GOOG) security certificates were hacked to give access to 300,000 Iranian citizens Gmail accounts, in what circumstantial evidence indicated was a "state-driven attack," potentially designed to ferret out spys or dissidents.

For now Iran military and government workers -- including the engineer -- are giddy with joy at their success, according to the report.  The source is stated as remarking, "We all feel drunk [with happiness] now.  Have you ever had a new laptop? Imagine that excitement multiplied many-fold."

What they captured was no mere Reaper or Predator -- it was an advanced RQ-170 Sentinel design, made by Lockheed Martin Corp. (LMT) for the CIA.  

He said that members of the National Guard initially feared that the drone was rigged to auto destruct, but eagerly moved to inspect it anyways because they "were so excited they could not stay away."

III. U.S.: Drone Missions to Iran Will Continue

It's important to remember that while the attack described in the report sounds very feasible, it has not been confirmed by the U.S. government, and may never be.  It now appears that the government is at least acknowledging that the drone is a real U.S. drone, as opposed to early reports in which some officials indicated it might be fake Iranian propaganda/publicity stunt.

Former U.S. Navy electronic warfare specialist Robert Densmore told The CS Monitor that Iran's claims were "certainly possible", adding, "I wouldn't say it's easy, but the technology is there... Even modern combat-grade GPS [is] very susceptible [to manipulation]."

The U.S. has claimed that the drone was not spying, but was flying a standard mission over Afghanistan, when it suffered a "unspecified technical malfunction" and went of course, landing in Iranian hands.  They declined to explain how the drone -- flying at high altitude -- could have avoided sustaining serious damage.

U.S. President Barrack Obama has requested that Iran return the drone to U.S. officials.  Iran has refused.  IRGC Brig. Gen. Mohammad Hejazi, comments, "That is a shameless demand raised by the U.S. President.  They raise such claims instead of apologizing to our Islamic establishment and people."

Obama upset
Iran has refused President Obama's demands that it return the drone.
[Image Source: Matt Ortega/Flickr]

Instead, Iran is filing a complaint with the United Nations Security Council, stating, "My government emphasizes that this blatant and unprovoked air violation by the United States government is tantamount to an act of hostility against the Islamic Republic of Iran in clear contravention of international law, in particular, the basic tenets of the United Nations Charter."

Despite that, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta told Fox News that the U.S. would "absolutely" continue to fly drones in the region.  The implied message -- but one that the U.S. military does not officially acknowledge -- is that the hunt for Iranian nuclear weapons activity will continue.

If confirmed, Iran's new drone downing capabilities are a concern.  Currently there's no real secure replacement for GPS satellites -- though China has done pioneering work in creating a state-run GPS network with an encrypted channel..  However, U.S. military suppliers could solve this issue by resorting to more advanced software.  For example a drone could be programmed to:
  1. Store GPS coordinates, starting from launch from a "friendly" location and recognize internally large changes to the GPS.
  2. Store a "friendly" air-space return path using the GPS history and known routes.  This could allow a drone to escape in a case of jamming like this one, and would prevent the enemy from trying a more slow and subtle modification of GPS coordinates on a jammed drone.
The new "Avenger" drone from General Atomics will soon be deployed to the region.  It's capable of holding a 2,000 lb. missile on attack missions.

Iran recently developed bomber UAVs of its own, though they are believed to be human-controlled designs, which trail the U.S.'s sophisticated UAVs, which are capable of autonomous flight, thanks to their advanced artificial intelligence.

V. Iran Threatens Afghanistan, Afghanistan Tells it to Leave it Out of U.S. Mess

Tensions rose on Thursday when Iran warned its neighbor Afghanistan that it would consider any further drones detected launching from U.S. bases in Afghanistan a "hostile act" by the Afghanis.  Iran's foreign minister Ali Akbar Salehi comments, "We have called on the Afghan government to seriously pursue the case, and under no circumstances let such events happen again, as such events will be regarded as unfriendly."  

It's hard to know exactly what Iran could do in response, given the U.S.'s support for the Afghani government.

The suggestion was enough, though, to rattle Afghani President Hamid Kharzai, who claimed not to know about the drone, stating, "Afghanistan was not aware that the drone had gone or malfunctioned in Iran."

Hamid Karzai
Hamid Kharzai told Iran that he wants their nations to be friends and to leave them out of its issues with the U.S. [Image Source: CNN]

He added, "Afghanistan would not want to be involved in any - how should I put it, not antagonism, adversarial relations between Iran and the United States. Afghanistan wishes that they be friends and Afghanistan's sovereignty and territorial integrity and soil is not used one against the other."

Afghanistan currently gets much of its domestic goods from Iran, a Middle Eastern manufacturing powerhouse.  A trade blockade would, of course, hurt debt-plagued Iran, but it's not entirely impossible that the nation's leadership could resort to such a mutually destructive move out of spite.

VI. Hostilities Between Iran and U.S. Continue

Iran, Israel, and the U.S. continue to be locked in a feud over Iran's reportedly nuclear weapons development.  The U.S. claims their evidence indicates Iran is secretly building bombs.  Iran claims its nuclear weapons activities are peaceful and solely for power purposes.

In addition to allegations of spying, Iran has publicly accused the U.S. and Israel of direct sabotage to its nuclear effort.  They point to the sophisticated "Stuxnet" worm, which specifically targetted Iran's nuclear power facilities, with the goal of sabotaging refining centrifuges.  Their have also been reported assasinations of Iranian nuclear scientists and unexplained explosions at Iranian factories/nuclear facilities.  Again, the Iranians point to U.S. and Israeli intelligence as the perpetrators of these incidents.

While Iran has never officially gone to war with the U.S. or its allies, although it did wage a war with Saddam Hussein's Iraq in the 1980s, a war in which the U.S. government was exposed to be funneling weapons and expertise to Iraq, weapons that would be turned against the U.S. in later conflicts.  The U.S. support of Iraq generated much bitterness and resentment among the Iranian revolutionary movement.

That bitterness has even deeper roots in the U.S. support for The Shah (Persian for "king") who, together with his father had ruled Iran for 54 years with U.S. support.  While the U.S. support helped modernize Iran, his policy of crushing dissidents and his imprisonment of Shiite religious leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini create pent-up hatred towards the monarch, animosity that exploded in the Iranian revolution of 1978.  

That revolution installed a theocratic government much of the kind that some Christian fundamentalists have called for here in the U.S. -- in which the state had a religion of choice, but (supposedly) offers freedom of religion via legislative protections for religious minorities. 

Some prominent America politicians such as Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) have called for the U.S. legal system to recognize the U.S. as a Christian theocracy [source].  Sen. McCain emphasizes "tolerance", but suggests that he would be uncomfortable with allowing a Muslim to be President of the United States.    Likewise Iran, in the 1980s went through a period of increasing its own "tolerance" efforts in the 1980s, allowing its Christian and Jewish minorities to hold token political positions, albeit barring them from top positions of federal power.

Despite the similar fundamental governing philosophies between "conservative" evangelicals in the U.S. and Iranian fundamentalists, the U.S. evangelical movement have led some of the harshest criticism of Iran, though curiously going light on U.S. ally Saudi Arabia, a nation which practices and preaches an even more theocratic religious rule.

Iran hasn't exactly done its best to win friends among moderates in the U.S., though.  It's been accused of funneling weapons to guerillas in the 1982 and 2006 conflicts between Lebanon and the U.S.-backed Israel.  

The U.S. fears -- and perhaps rightly so -- that a nuclear armed Iran could lead to catastrophic destruction of its ally Israel and U.S. military bases in the Middle East.  They also fear the nation could threaten the stability of secular democracies in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, funneling support to religious insurgents.  

Israel remains more non-chalant, claiming it can shoot down any Iranian nukes that come its way.  Israel and Iran are currently engage in a cyberwar.

The Islamic republic is a puzzle for the Western world, and its neighbors to deal with in coming years.  Iran, despite economic problems and foreign economic sanctions continues to grow.  It recently passed the 1 million market in yearly automobile production, making it the top domestic producer of cars in the Middle East.  Iran has the benefit of holding the world's second richest natural gas reserves and third richest oil reserves.

In 2009 Iran launched its first satellite into space.

Iranian woman on phone
Iran is a growing power in terms of education and technology, making its political and military clashes with the U.S., all the more problematic.
[Image Source: Google Images, original author unknown; 
Fair Use clause TITLE 17 > CHAPTER 1 > § 107]

It also claimed to have 3.5 million college students enrolled in 2008 [source] -- a 4.4 percent enrollment rate which compares approaches U.S. enrollment rates. The U.S. reported in 2009 20.4 million college students enrolled [source], roughly a 6.7 % per capita enrollment rate.  While Iranian propoganda makes it hard to tell whether these numbers are entirely accurate, Iran does appear to have higher college education rates that many of its Middle Eastern peers.

Sources: Christian Science Monitor, ETH Zurich, MSNBC, Fox News

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Credible indeed
By geddarkstorm on 12/15/2011 11:03:37 PM , Rating: 5
Because the plane, if those pictures are real, is not ripped to ribbons from a crash (minor dents are nothing, a real crash would have torn apart the airframe; and those dents only corroborate their story), the only conclusion is it had to soft land, which means being hacked and commanded to do so as the informant claims. Rather disturbing.

I remember, if correctly, previous reports detailing how hacking our drones was a worry, using this exact vulnerability. Seems those reports were quite right. I guess the best course of action is to ground the fleet and fix the holes before people start simply stealing our stuff right out of the air. But sounds like we aren't going to do that. Wonderful!

Oh well, maybe we are simply bringing Christmas to Iran.

As a side note: If you wonder why people are so much more outspoken against Iran than Saudi Arabia, Jason, it isn't about religion, though that's a convenient "that too!" argument. It's about Iran's leaders constantly -threatening everyone around them- with war and destruction, in an outspoken way, hence the outspoken backlash. SA doesn't do that in recent times. At least not overtly. But don't think anyone is happy with the horrific things that go on in SA, especially to women.

RE: Credible indeed
By Solandri on 12/16/2011 1:08:34 AM , Rating: 5
Because the plane, if those pictures are real, is not ripped to ribbons from a crash (minor dents are nothing, a real crash would have torn apart the airframe; and those dents only corroborate their story), the only conclusion is it had to soft land, which means being hacked and commanded to do so as the informant claims.

If you look carefully, the wings were torn off and reattached. They've continually covered up the bottom, so it's probably all torn up too. Maybe from a wheels-up belly landing.

These things are programmed to fly and land themselves. Depending on how those behaviors were layered, you can get all sorts of unintentional behavior in unusual circumstances. We ran into similar problems with our autonomous submarine while I was in grad school. Someone wanted sonar measurements of the ocean floor from 5 meters, so he went and changed the priority of the safety behavior keeping it more than 10 m from the bottom. The new priority resulted in the sub performing its entire mission with the nose buried in the mud. Turns out someone had forgotten to remove a behavior from an open-ocean mission. So the sub was now trying to dive down to 200 m in 20 m of water, without the safety behavior keeping it at least 10 m from the bottom.

I'm rather skeptical. You can't just send a GPS signal telling the drone it's in Afghanistan. GPS location works based on the time those signals arrive at the drone. To successfully pull this off would require tracking the locations of all the GPS satellites overhead at the time (they are moving at about 7 km/sec), correctly guessing at the drone's location and velocity, then successfully spoofing the correct GPS signals at the correct time down to a few microseconds if not nanoseconds, while simultaneously blocking the real signals.

If you're off by a few milliseconds, the GPS will say it's over India. And if you're off by a few nanoseconds, the GPS will tell the drone it's flying sideways or backwards, or up or down. If you don't transmit all the satellite signals correctly for the correct location and movement, the UAV will calculate one position from some satellites, a different position from others. Only 3 satellites are needed for a lock; any more are used to further refine the accuracy of the position. But if you don't predict the drone's location and spoof all these other satellites correctly, all these other spoof satellites would result in decreased accuracy, resulting in the AI deciding the GPS has failed and discounting the position it's reporting.

All aircraft I've seen have multiple navigation systems (including inertial, which can't be jammed), and any programmer worth his salt would put the UAV into a failsafe mode if the positions reported by these deviated significantly from each other. Large or inconsistent fluctuations in the GPS position would be grounds for the AI distrusting the GPS readings and prioritizing other navigational measurements like inertial. And to top it off, the military GPS signal is encrypted. You can jam it, but spoofing it is a whole nother ball of wax.

A malfunction still seems like the most likely cause. The spoofed GPS claim really sounds to me like BS by someone who's never worked with navigation systems based on signal arrival times from beacons.

As a side note: If you wonder why people are so much more outspoken against Iran than Saudi Arabia, Jason, it isn't about religion, though that's a convenient "that too!" argument. It's about Iran's leaders constantly -threatening everyone around them- with war and destruction, in an outspoken way, hence the outspoken backlash.

The U.S. and Iran have a long, troubled history. I'd encourage the younger people reading this to read up on it before condemning Iran. In a nutshell, the U.S. supported a dictator in Iran in exchange for access to its oil and as a bulwark against the Soviet Union. The Iranians overthrew him in a popular revolution, during which they stormed the U.S. embassy and captured most of its personnel. They were held hostage for over a year. While technically illegal, it was understandable considering their previous history with the U.S. Since then Iran's government has been a theocracy which regularly channels hatred of the U.S. any time they need to divert attention away from domestic problems. Usually this type of animosity dies down within a generation or two (most Iranians alive today probably don't even remember the Shah), but both sides seem to want to keep it going.

RE: Credible indeed
By zmatt on 12/16/2011 2:08:00 AM , Rating: 4
All aircraft I've seen have multiple navigation systems (including inertial, which can't be jammed), and any programmer worth his salt would put the UAV into a failsafe mode if the positions reported by these deviated significantly from each other. Large or inconsistent fluctuations in the GPS position would be grounds for the AI distrusting the GPS readings and prioritizing other navigational measurements like inertial. And to top it off, the military GPS signal is encrypted. You can jam it, but spoofing it is a whole nother ball of wax.

That would make sense however we have a pretty bloated defense industry and corners are cut all the time to keep costs down and get hardware shipped fast. There have been dumber over sights in military equipment. Remember the UAV in question is made by the same people who make the F-35 and how much of a debacle has that been? I agree with you that the jamming and spoofing of GPS is utter bull and it likely malfunctioned and landed in Iran. However we know that unless things have changed they have the capability to tune in to the video feeds, so it's possible they knew where it was long before it crashed. It's all disturbing and a huge embarrassment at any rate and I hope the stupid general who signed off on it with these glaring vulnerabilities gets a reprimand and demotion.

The way I see it there are two major causes for this systemically speaking. 1) our defense industry is bloated and inefficient. Our programs cost more than they should and deliver lack luster results. It is inexcusable that the F-22 which has been in development most of my life gives pilots hypoxia like symptoms, or the nav systems BSOD when they cross the international dateline. It is also inexcusable that in the 21st century we allow these automated systems to have the same level of security as windows XP without any form of AV. The second issue is that most of the military leadership grew up before the computer and internet age and they simply don't understand all of this so they get over looked. The government needs to get security experts in important roles now if they want to halt any more embarrassment. Our hackers should be every bit as good as Iran's or China's. The only reason they get away with this is because we aren't taking advantage of our resources.

RE: Credible indeed
By fteoath64 on 12/16/2011 3:26:04 AM , Rating: 2
With Russian assistance in many tech areas, jamming and spoofing an unmanned craft that has no radar, but only GPS and remote-radio signals are dead easy when it is in enemy territory.

A lot of the vulnerabilities of these UAVs have been studied by others and probably tested to some extent. The military relies on secrecy for their tech and there lies its core weakness, others just looking at the "black-box" can do a lot of tech trickery and I believe has been done in this case since they were monitoring where it was for some time and scanning the frequencies and doing decryption.

Now that they have got one, the Russians and Chinese would probably copy an identical looking one with very different nav systems very soon. In fact one that could potentially be UAV killer .... let the cyberwars begin so people will not be hurt in the process.

RE: Credible indeed
By heffeque on 12/17/2011 7:10:16 AM , Rating: 2
LOL @ US Army

RE: Credible indeed
By luseferous on 12/16/2011 4:20:26 AM , Rating: 1
I read your argument about timing and spoofing the gps signals.

First off I know little about the subject matter you discuss though can't help but see some problems with what your saying.

If your blocking one gps signal aren't you blocking all ? I would guess that all the satellites use the same frequency or set of frequencies to communicate otherwise your phone, satnav, etc wouldn't be able to connect. Same goes for broadcasting the signal back. Whats stopping them sending three or more streams of data to the drone ?

As the spoofers can receive the legitimate signal it wouldn't it be possible tweak it via software then just pass it on? If so this makes timing issues irrelevant.

RE: Credible indeed
By luseferous on 12/16/2011 4:36:49 AM , Rating: 2
Sorry I missed part of my argument on the last bit.

I guess you would need something of your own in the air nearby to provide data to work from.

RE: Credible indeed
By dsx724 on 12/16/2011 8:59:51 AM , Rating: 2
GPS is omnidirectional. If it was using the non-encrypted GPS channels, you can spoof all of the channels using one microchip or a couple of encoders and multiplexers.

RE: Credible indeed
By Ammohunt on 12/16/2011 9:59:33 PM , Rating: 3
To explain Irans current behavior and justify its actions based on what U.S. policy was 30+ years ago is a non sequitur. Irans government is a paranoid fascist regime hell bent on the destruction of free nations and nothing more. Their current behavior; like Germany found out almost a hundred years ago leads to one thing and one thing only…War. No one likes a bully and if it wasn’t for current world leaders Neville Chamberlain like appeasement policy towards Iran they would have been dealt with long ago. So stock up on iodine tablets and mark my words; as soon as Iran proves positive they poses a nuclear weapon there will be an unconventional preemptive attack on that nation and long term the world will be better off.

RE: Credible indeed
By Paj on 12/19/2011 7:07:20 AM , Rating: 1
Really? So if Iran overthrew the US government tomorrow, US citizens in 30 years should be cool with that?

Yes, they are paranoid. Yes, they don't have the greatest human rights record. But the explanation for their behavious are as clear as day. They have had the US and Britain meddling with their affairs for most of the 20th century, just so they could have cheaper oil. Wouldn't that be grounds for getting all riled up?

You say no one likes a bully - that's exactly how much of the Middle East views the West, and with good reason. If the West had left the Middle East alone after the fall of the Ottoman Empire, it's likely the world would be very different today.

RE: Credible indeed
By KoS on 12/19/2011 12:45:46 PM , Rating: 2
Don't forget the Soviet invasion, with the Brits, during WW2. The Soviets even took some of Iran's land.

Don't forget Germany meddling. Iran leadership at time were pro-Nazi.

RE: Credible indeed
By mevans336 on 12/17/2011 8:19:31 PM , Rating: 2
It sounds to me like someone was lazy and this drone wasn't using the military's encrypted GPS signal at all.

That supports the comment by the Iranian engineer that cracking the encrypted "command and control" signal wasn't necessary and spoofing the GPS signal was trivial.

FYI, spoofing GPS isn't not as difficult as you believe, as the paper detailing how to do so has been available since 2003.

RE: Credible indeed
By leexgx on 12/18/2011 12:55:16 AM , Rating: 2
military GPS can just work with 1 GPS for an bit (as long as it had 2-3 sats before uses 2D lock with 1 sat)

but really there should of been better software to protect it from jamming if it was been jammed or loss of connection to controller, it should do an 180 (or what ever direction on the its safe to go using magnetic compass) and go back the way it came and ignore GPS information until it got out of jamming range

RE: Credible indeed
By inperfectdarkness on 12/18/2011 5:32:34 PM , Rating: 2
the problem with GPS jamming is that it probably wouldn't work worth a damn at the range and altitude that would be required to put a drone off its intended course. i can tell you from PERSONAL EXPERIENCE that GPS jamming (at least the currently fielded ones that we know about, the kind iran has) do not have a "reach out and touch you" capability of hundreds of miles.

GPS jamming works by providing a signal stronger than feeds from satellites. additionally, since it requires multiple satellite signals for a FIX, the best a lone GPS jammer could hope for is to slightly disrupt any given set of coordinates. it would be practically impossible to generate an accurate "false fix" with a single GPS jammer. and even then, you still have the problem of signal power, as a GPS signal sent through the lower atmosphere attenuates much more than a pure signal coming from a geosynchronous satellite.

additionally, it is (at least theoretically) possible to instruct an airframe (manned or unmanned) to discard ground-based GPS signals once in flight. this is easy enough to do, as a gyroscopically-level plane can fairly easily ascertain a signal that is originating from below it's waistline.

iran is once again, very full of hot air. it's really no different from kim il sung claiming he inventing the bicycle. lol!

RE: Credible indeed
By animekenji on 1/4/2012 7:42:53 AM , Rating: 2
Except now the people are trying to rise up against the Mullahs and are being suppressed. If the revolution of 1978 was legitimate, why aren't the latest uprisings and demonstrations? Shouldn't we have gone into Iran already and helped the people overthrow the current government?

RE: Credible indeed
By Reclaimer77 on 12/16/2011 1:33:50 AM , Rating: 2
I think this should be a lesson to those who think the age of manned fighters is coming to a close, and we can just UAV our way into the future. The simplest defense against them is to flood the air with sufficient energy to jam it's communications. At which point it would take an impossible level of AI to allow them to be combat effective without a controller.

RE: Credible indeed
By The Raven on 12/16/2011 10:47:43 AM , Rating: 3
Here come the Skynet Hunter Killers!!

RE: Credible indeed
By mellomonk on 12/16/2011 11:19:39 AM , Rating: 2
I think this should be a lesson to those who think the age of manned fighters is coming to a close, and we can just UAV our way into the future.

I was wondering how long it would be before something like the above was put forward. If anything this incident re-affirms the purpose of our unmanned combat aircraft programs. Think of the propaganda and intelligence value if it was a blindfolded American pilot that was being shown instead of a crashed drone. Talk about a crisis.

The UCAV and unmanned recon programs are iterating and evolving at least 10X faster then manned programs. Witness the glacial F-35 development. With each gen they become more autonomous and capable. Take this incident for example. Within months it will have been examined and understood. Even if a total redesign is necessary it will be done and tested in significantly less time then a manned unit. and at significantly less cost. The lower cost allows you the option of tailoring a design for a given mission and even trying multiple designs, unlike the expensive jack-of-all-trades human designs.
There should always be a place for a human pilot. Their ability to make snap decisions, adapt, and improvise on the fly will not be achieved by autonomous drones for some time, if ever. But that doesn't mean that a good deal of dangerous missions, if not the majority of such cannot be better handled by autonomous means. In time they will have far better decision making capability, be more secure, and be far more suited to long duration and high performance flights, ie G forces. Best yet they will be cheaper and most of all expendable. It may not be as glamorous in our minds, but Humans will be reserved for those special circumstances where they are best, and worth risking.

The scary part is that because of the lower risk, we might be far more likely to use autonomous weapons, which is exactly what the world doesn't need right now.

RE: Credible indeed
By Reclaimer77 on 12/16/2011 3:25:06 PM , Rating: 2
If anything this incident re-affirms the purpose of our unmanned combat aircraft programs. Think of the propaganda and intelligence value if it was a blindfolded American pilot that was being shown instead of a crashed drone. Talk about a crisis.

They tricked the drone into landing though. You can't "trick" a pilot into doing the same. Your argument makes no sense.

Like it or not, Iran just highlighted a SEVERE and fundamental weakness in relying on UAV technology. For spy drones, it's fine. But when people start talking about scrapping next-gen fighter planes for UAV Raptors, it's time to be concerned.

RE: Credible indeed
By Mint on 12/17/2011 7:17:16 AM , Rating: 2
Do you really think this is such an insurmountable flaw that it makes UAVs a dead end?

Use an encrypted GPS signal, frequently changing encryption schemes, and suddenly spoofing is impossible without an insider telling the Iranians how to replicate the encoding. Most people already think the spoofing explanation is a lie, because it's hard to come up with a reason for the captured plane to be using unencrypted GPS aside from laziness or debug code.

All UAV programs around the world probably have anti-spoofing and self-destruct abilities. All this tells us is that now we have to get them polished enough (and safe enough to avoid accidents) to regularly use them.

RE: Credible indeed
By FITCamaro on 12/18/2011 11:57:10 AM , Rating: 3
Encrypted or not, if you just jam all signals in an area, then it doesn't matter what kind of signal or encryption you use. About the only thing that can't be blocked is light but you can't really control a drone with light.

RE: Credible indeed
By ShieTar on 12/16/2011 6:50:09 AM , Rating: 1
As a side note: If you wonder why people are so much more outspoken against Iran than Saudi Arabia, Jason, it isn't about religion, though that's a convenient "that too!" argument. It's about Iran's leaders constantly -threatening everyone around them- with war and destruction, in an outspoken way, hence the outspoken backlash.

But Israel does, and even more aggressive and outspoken. As does the US (threaten Iran I mean, not their own neighbours). The ongoing problem is that the people of each of these three countries think that they are only reacting to the aggressions of the other side, and seemingly never realise that those aggressions where only reactions in themself.

And you have to be very carefull with the feeling you get about the iran "constantly" threatening. The way modern media work is that they will create exactly the story that they expect their viewers want to see. If you scan all the talks of all the iranian politicians, just looking for some idiot spewing Anti-Israel or Anti-US statements, you will find them. If they are in persian, and you know you can translate them as badly, that just makes your job that much easier.

Just be glad that the Bush declaration of "We will prevent that U.S. soldiers will be judged by the international court of law in The Hague, with military force if necessary" was never escalated by the Netherlands.

RE: Credible indeed
By tng on 12/16/2011 1:40:33 PM , Rating: 3
But Israel does, and even more aggressive and outspoken. As does the US (threaten Iran I mean, not their own neighbours)
Really? I don't recall the last time I saw Bush or Obama threaten Iran with "nuclear fire" as did the leader of Iran in reference to Israel on more than one occasion...

RE: Credible indeed
By Paj on 12/19/2011 7:14:10 AM , Rating: 1
No, but Israel forges passports from other countries for use by Mossad, who then run badly planned military exercises to assassinate officials from other countries. Their commandos board aid vessels in international waters and kill activists.
And a whole lot more besides.

Iran knows that if it did any of these things, it would be a pretext to war. But Israel gets away with everything, because the US vetoes any UN resolution condemning their actions.

RE: Credible indeed
By KoS on 12/19/2011 12:58:21 PM , Rating: 2
The same "aid" vessels which were carrying weapons mixed in with aid materials. The same "aid" workers who attacked the commandos as sooon as the boarded the vessels. The same "aid" vessels which tried to run a blockade instead of making port at a suitable place so the boats contents could be inspected and verified.

How do yo know Iran doesn't do the same things Israel does? So killing the PM of Lebanon doesn't count?

Since we are pointing out differences. Don't forget Israel doesn't teach it's children, in school and else where, to kill the Arabs/Palestines. Unlike the other side! But hey, that is ok, since Israel is so evil!

RE: Credible indeed
By Paj on 12/20/2011 6:08:40 AM , Rating: 2
Both sides commit atrocities - I'm not denying that. But as long as Isreal has the protection of the US, they will get away with things that no one else will, and that is the real problem. Thats just one of the reasons why much of the Middle East is so hostile to the US. If you have oil or you allow us to use your bases, you're fine - do what you like! Hence Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Israel, Libya - yet we ignore Syria, Sudan, Yemen, Somalia.

Yet more tragic side effects left over from the legacy of the Allied victories after the world wars.

RE: Credible indeed
By The Raven on 12/20/2011 3:53:39 PM , Rating: 2
I don't know about "nuclear fire" exactly, but Bush called them part of the "Axis of Evil" and Bush says that "all options are on the table" with Iran (as Obama has said also I believe. At any rate he has the same policy.)

So we call them an enemy and then tell them basically that "nuclear fire" is an option. I don't think our hands are clean here.

And yes this has been on more than one occasion that we have said and done things like this. We are the bigger country population-wise, economically speaking, and technologically speaking. I personally am of the opinion that we should act like it and drop this crap since it is clear that they have a reason to be pissed at us, even if it was their "fault" to begin with. And if they want to attack us with a nuclear weapon? (If they can even get the thing over here) Bring it. We (and the rest of the world) will squash them faster than they can say "oops".

The pissing contest should be ended right now...Ron Paul 2012.

RE: Credible indeed
By tng on 12/21/2011 4:53:56 PM , Rating: 2
The pissing contest should be ended right now...Ron Paul 2012.
While I will say it is a stretch that the "Axis of Evil" and "All options" are a direct reference to nuclear fire, I agree with your 2012 vote.

RE: Credible indeed
By The Raven on 12/21/2011 11:40:08 PM , Rating: 2
Would you agree that turning Iran into "another Iraq" is "on the table" based on our past 2 (to 5) presidents' statements/'ideologies'?

If someone said that about the US, I wouldn't really care if they did it with nuclear fire or with a gigantic army. Threats made under your breath still come across as threats.

And I'm not picking sides here. I'm just pointing out that we are writing checks our Fed can't cash, and we have to watch how we shoot our collective mouth off at countries that are hostile to us. Where is the healing going to start if not by our militarily blessed asses?

RE: Credible indeed
By The Raven on 12/21/2011 11:58:27 PM , Rating: 2
Sorry, let me be clear that I am actually picking sides. I side with my beloved US.

However, I was referring to the rhetoric war that goes on between the US and Iran or whoever else. Trash talk is trash no matter who it comes from. I don't care if it is from my president or someone elses, I will not necessarily stand idly by as if I agree with certain statements that are made just because they are made by my president.

RE: Credible indeed
By tng on 12/22/2011 4:27:32 PM , Rating: 2
Well Iran is not anywhere near the same as pre-war Iraq, and any administration would be stupid to assume so. A war with Iran would be much more costly in terms of money and lives. I also think that protection from Iran is in ballistic missile defense systems in Europe.

In short, no we can't afford another war. If our intent was to go after Iran, it should had been done while large numbers of troops were in Iraq and Afghanistan, to late now. When we did start to draw down forces, I started to worry less.

RE: Credible indeed
By vol7ron on 12/17/2011 5:22:37 PM , Rating: 2
If you notice in the pictures, the US flag has death skulls where stars would be -- that's why I'm against Iran.

RE: Credible indeed
By animekenji on 1/4/2012 7:39:31 AM , Rating: 2
So the possibility of there being a traitor in the drone control center who deliberately landed the drone in Iran doesn't mean anything to you at all? The ONLY possible explanation is that they hacked it? With Pfc Manning in custody for turning over top secret files to wikileaks, and the incident with the Fort Hood shooter, the possibility of there being traitors in our military is a very real one.

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