US considered missions to destroy RQ-170 Sentinel drone lost in Iran
The RQ-170 Sentinel drone lost over Iran is one of America's most valuable intelligence assets. It's unclear what brought it down - hostile fire or malfunction. Iran claims to have shot it down but has provided no photographs.
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Its stealth design allows it to operate in potentially hostile areas, avoiding air defense systems. That may include Syria, Dr. Thompson speculates. Other reports say the RQ-170 has been useful in gaining information about Hezbollah terrorist training camps inside Iran.Skip to next paragraph
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One key question now is why the drone went down over Iran.
As Thompson notes, the RQ-170 has an automatic “return to base” feature in case it loses its data link with military or CIA drone operators in Afghanistan or the United States. Because that “carrier pigeon” capability did not kick in, it’s likely that the drone experienced a software or mechanical failure.
“The big unanswered question is, what precisely do the Iranians have?” says Thompson.
“If all they have is a pile of wreckage, it’s pretty useless,” he says, noting that the drone’s software is highly encrypted.
Pentagon and CIA officials have had little to say about the incident other than acknowledging that operators had lost control of a US drone. Privately, officials deny that Iran brought down the RQ-170, either by shooting it down or hacking its control software. More likely, they say, the drone simply lost its link to ground controllers, ran out of fuel, and crashed.
In any case, reports Aviation Week, “the single-channel, full-motion video capability that made the stealthy flying wing so invaluable when it debuted in Afghanistan about two years ago is considered outdated, potentially limiting the intelligence fallout.”
US officials told the Associated Press that the RQ-170 drone that crashed inside Iran over the weekend was one of a fleet of stealth aircraft that have spied on Iran for years from a US air base in Afghanistan.
According to these officials, the US has built up the air base in Shindad, Afghanistan, with an eye to keeping a long-term presence there to launch surveillance missions and even special operations missions into Iran if deemed necessary, the AP reports.
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