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Downed US drone: How Iran caught the 'beast'

Iran's apparent capture of a largely intact RQ-170 Sentinel spy drone, which was reportedly monitoring Iran's nuclear program, is a significant loss for the US.

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Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) said it had tracked and brought down the plane. After crossing into Iran,"this aircraft fell into the trap of our armed forces and was downed," said IRGC aerospace chief Brig. Gen. Amir Ali Hajizadeh. "Military experts are well aware how precious the technological information of this drone is," said General Hajizadeh.

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Officials from Russia and China – which have close trade ties with Iran, and oppose Western efforts to increase pressure – "have asked for permission to inspect the US spy drone," Iranian media reported.

How Iran got the 'beast'

Nicknamed the "Beast of Kandahar" after it was first spotted in 2009 on an airport runway in Kandahar, Afghanistan, the drone was used to monitor Osama bin Laden's compound in Pakistan, undetected, before the raid to kill the Al Qaeda leader.

The Iranian video shows Hajizadeh and another Guard officer examining the craft with its radar-evading curves and wingspan which resembles the larger B-2 stealth bomber. It was placed on a platform with banners hiding the undercarriage and landing gear. The banners – fixed to either wing with clear packing tape – read: "The US can't mess with us," and "We'll crush America underfoot."

It was not clear how Iran acquired the drone intact. Some US experts dismiss the possibility that Iran could hack and then takeover the drone's controls, as Iran claims. And yet similar disruptions have proven possible in other battlefields, notably with the Iran-backed Hezbollah militia in Lebanon and drones from Israel.

"Those jamming capabilities exist, and a lot of them are not as new as we would like to imagine," says former US Navy electronics warfare officer Densmore.
"Anything that has a sensor, that takes communications links – as does the RQ-170, which has two, one for the satellite, and the other is line-of-sight with the ground control station – all it takes is disrupting that," says Densmore.

Often flying at 50,000-foot altitude, the RQ-170 would have had a hard landing, some say. And yet the Iranian video shows little visible damage, except that wings appear to have been reattached, and there was a small dent on the front edge of the left wing.

A senior US military source "with intimate knowledge of the Sentinel drone" was paraphrased by Fox News days ago as saying that the lost craft was "presumed to be intact since it is programmed to fly level and find a place to land, rather than crashing."

"This is a big prize in terms of technology," the source told Fox.

$6 million drone

The unmanned $6 million stealth drone is made by Lockheed Martin's Advanced Development Programs. It is the third high-profile loss of stealth technology: the first when a US F-117 jet fighter was shot down during the Kosovo conflict  in 1999; the second when a stealth helicopter was damaged and largely destroyed in situ during the Bin Laden raid in Pakistan.


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