RQ-170 Sentinel
Middle Eastern power hopes to use capture U.S. stealth drone to further its own UAV ambitions

It remains one of the highest profile embarrassments of the U.S. Armed Forces and Intelligence community in recent years: the loss of the RQ-170 spy drone to the Iranian army.

I. Iran Claims to Have Cracked Drone's Encrypted Data Files

While the U.S. still claims that it was a technical malfunction that downed the drone, many defense experts were swayed by Iran's detailed explanation of how it jammed U.S. control signals and duped the drone into think it was performing a landing in a similar altitude home base.

The daring kidnapping sent the U.S. backpedalling after initially claiming the incident could be a hoax.  The Iranian black op drew criticism from U.S. President Obama, who demanded the drone back.  Iran agreed to return a drone, but then mockingly offered to give the POTUS a pink toy drone, versus the captured flyer.

Now Iran is vocalizing once more, claiming it's cracking into the flyer's encrypted software.  

States Gen. Amir Ali Hajizadeh, the head of the Revolutionary Guards’ aerospace division on state-run television (as reported by The Defense News), "I am giving you four codes so the Americans understand just how far we have gone in penetrating the drone’s secrets.  In October 2010, the aircraft was sent to California for some technical issues, where it was repaired and, after flight tests, it was taken to Kandahar (in Afghanistan) in November 2010, when a series of technical problems still prevailed.  In December 2010, it was sent to an airport near Los Angeles for repair of its equipment and sensors, and flight tests. The drone was then sent back to Kandahar."
Obama upset
Iran has refused President Obama's demands that it return the drone.
[Image Source: Matt Ortega/Flickr]

The comments indicate that the Iranians may have gained access to the flyer's encrypted flight logs.  While that wouldn't necessarily be as damaging as if they gained access to the core control logic, it raises the question of how many secrets they'll be able to extract from the captured U.S. air-bot.

Iran's captured drone
Iran is working to copy the downed drone and crack its data, logic files.[Image Source: Reuters]

II. Senior Senator Lieberman Blows Off Claims

Iran's claims have been countered by Leon Panetta, although he has not formally denied that Iran cracked the flyer's logs.  U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), head of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, was also quick to mock the comments as "Iranian bluster", remarking, "There is some history here of Iranian bluster, particularly now when they’re on the defensive because of our economic sanctions against them."

Joe Lieberman
Sen. Joe Lieberman called the claims "Iranian bluster" [Image Source:]

The loss of the drone is a sore subject, particularly amid Iran's claims that it will produce copies of the drone.  Gen. Hajizadeh brags, "This aircraft is a national treasure for us, and I cannot divulge [more details] about it.  [But we will] started producing a copy of the RQ-170 drone."

Iran has been working on unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) for several years now, according to U.S. intelligence.

The edge the captured design could give it is a big headache to the U.S. as reportedly the stealth technology in the drone -- which was captured on a special U.S. Central Intelligence Agency mission -- is similar to that used in American stealth fighters and bombers.  Amid Iran's suspected nuclear ambitions, there's much concern about how far the nation could get technologically.

The Middle Eastern giant may be relatively hostile to the west, but it's also a fast developing technology power.  While it's struggled with economic challenges in recent years, it produces over a million cars a year -- the most of any Middle Eastern nation.  Aside from being the region's manufacturing capital, Iran also publishes more peer-reviewed research yearly than any other nation in the Middle East.  In short, Iran may be a hostile power and be a bit behind the U.S. on the tech curve, but they're by no means clueless.

Iranian TV
Iran has been gunning for UAVs for years now. [Image Source: Iranian state television]

It should be interesting to see who's right -- Gen. Hajizadeh or Sen. Lieberman.

"Intel is investing heavily (think gazillions of dollars and bazillions of engineering man hours) in resources to create an Intel host controllers spec in order to speed time to market of the USB 3.0 technology." -- Intel blogger Nick Knupffer

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