09 December 2011 - by Andrew White and Tony Osborne – Shepard Group
Images of an alleged US Air Force RQ-170 Sentinel UAV have been aired on television following claims that Iran has captured the ‘low-observable’ and highly-secretive ISR airframe.
Shown on 8 December, footage showed Iranian military officials examining what appeared to be the fuselage of the UAV. Unofficial reports suggest the UAV had flown across Afghanistan’s western border into Iranian airspace.
The US Office of the Secretary of the Air Force refused to comment, telling Unmanned Vehicles that there was no official statement regarding the incident.
In an address to the media, a Pentagon spokesperson admitted that a UAV had gone missing but refused to comment on specifics, instead referring to the sensitive nature of reconnaissance missions.
However, on 4 December an official statement from NATO’s International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) confirmed a UAV ‘to which the Iranians are referring may be a US unarmed reconnaissance aircraft that had been flying a mission over western Afghanistan late last week’.
‘The operators of the UAV lost control of the aircraft and had been working to determine its status,’ the statement continued.
The manufacturer of the UAV in question, Lockheed Martin, could only add: ‘The US Air Force acknowledged in December 2009 that it had developed the RQ-170 Sentinel as a low-observable unmanned aircraft system with a primary mission of ISR.’
However, according to a Tehran-based website purporting to represent the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, the UAV was ‘ambushed’ by electronic means and landed with ‘minimal damage’.
The report then went on to quote dimensions of the airframe –figures which have yet to be publically released by the USAF. However, some industry sources have questioned the validity of the UAV paraded on television.
According to USAF literature, the RQ-170 is a ‘low-observable UAS being developed, tested and fielded by the Air Force. It will provide reconnaissance and surveillance in support of the joint forces commander.
‘The RQ-170 will directly support combatant commander needs for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance to locate targets,’ it continued.
The RQ-170 is flown by Air Combat Command's 432nd Wing at Creech Air Force Base and the 30th Reconnaissance Squadron at Tonopah Test Range, both located in Nevada.