Moon of Alabama Brecht quote
December 05, 2011

How Iran Acquired A Stealth Drone

It seems that Iran has acquired a U.S. stealth drone which was illegally flying within its airspace.

A secret U.S. surveillance drone that went missing last week in western Afghanistan appears to have crashed in Iran, in what may be the first case of such an aircraft ending up in the hands of an adversary.

Iran’s news agencies asserted that the nation’s defense forces brought down the drone, which the Iranian reports said was an RQ-170 stealth aircraft. It is designed to penetrate enemy air defenses that could see and possibly shoot down less-sophisticated Predator and Reaper drones.
...
U.S. officials acknowledged Sunday that a drone had been lost near the Iranian border, but they declined to say what kind of aircraft was missing.
...
The first reports of the drone crash came from Iran’s semiofficial Fars News Agency. “Iran’s army has downed an intruding RQ-170 American drone in eastern Iran,” the Arabic-language al-Alam state television network quoted an unnamed source as saying. “The spy drone, which has been downed with little damage, was seized by the armed forces.”

Reuters wrote that U.S. official says no sign Iran shot down drone. Of course Iran never claimed that it shot down the drone so this is a non-denial. Iran just "downed" the drone by some electronic warfare means.

The question now is "How did they do it?" Here are my speculative ideas on that.


RQ-170 image by Truthdowser/Wikimedia

As this is a stealth drone detecting it is the first problem. A usual monostatic radar where the emitter of the radar beam and the receiver which catches the echo from the airplane are in the same place would not find the drone. The drone's form and its echo reducing coating would scatter the beam too much.

But by using bistatic radar where the emitter is separated from the receiver(s) by a distance that is comparable to the expected target distance even stealthy flying objects can be detected.

Detection by electronic means is also possible if the drone is receiving and sending information via its satellite link and not just silently following a preprogrammed flightpath. While the signal from the drone to the satellite is send in a highly directional beam a plane equipped with the necessary radios flying above the drone and near the line of sight between the satellite and the drone should be able to locate it. If the drone used its own radar to "look around" Iran the recently delivered Russian Avtobaza "anti-stealth" system will likely have detected it.

The Iranians says it did not shoot the drone down but "downed" it with little damage. I think they may have actually landed it.

This RQ-170 drone type became known as the "Beast of Kandahar" when it first observed there four years ago. Flying U.S. stealth drones in Afghanistan is obvioulsy necessary to escape the Taliban's radars (not). The drone is quite big with an estimated wingspan of 65 feet (20m) to 90 feet (27m) and a takeoff weight of some 10,000 lbs.

When the drone is in the air it is controlled via a satellite link from a remote operating station. But during start and landing the drone is piloted via line-of-sight radio by an operator near the start or landing field. This is necessary because the remote satellite link has a delay of several hundred milliseconds which is just too much latency to correct wind sheer and other problems during takeoff and landing.

What the Iranians seem to have done is to take over the drone's line-of-sight control. This after electronically disrupting its satellite link. Disrupting the satellite link alone would not be enough as the drone would then have followed some preprogrammed action like simply flying back to where it came from. With the line-of-sight control active a satellite link disruption would not lead to a preprogrammed abort.

We can reasonably assume that the Iranians have some station near Kandahar Airport that is listening to all military radio traffic there. They had four years to analyze the radio signaling between the ground operator and such drones. Even if that control signal is encrypted pattern recognition during many flights over four years would have given them enough information to break the code.

Iran will take care to hide the drone well as the U.S. would likely try to destroy it if its location would be known. When the Chinese collected parts of a stealth F-117 stealth plane that was downed in Yugoslavia the U.S. bombed their embassy in Belgrade.

Having acquired an only slightly damaged state of the art stealth drone Iran will be able to copy a lot of its technology as well as to find new measures against such drones. There will also bee a lot of interests from other sides into this technology. We can bet that the military attaches from the Russian, Chinese, Indian, Pakistani and other embassies are already queuing up in the Iranian Defense Ministry and ready to make some very lucrative offers.

Posted by b on December 5, 2011 at 09:31 AM | Permalink

Comments

Someone pointed out that there was a report of virus infecting US predator drones, which may be linked to this.

Posted by: nikon | Dec 5, 2011 9:59:25 AM | 1

someone pointed out that there was report of virus infecting US predator drones, which may be linked to this.

Posted by: nikon | Dec 5, 2011 10:01:14 AM | 2

b, is it possible that the "over Iranian airspace" was just a cover? That the Iranians actually hijacked the drone over Pakistan?

If so, the beauty would be the US couldn't quite say anything since, 1) They aren't supposed to be over Pakistan either and 2) Pentagon would have to admit that there pride and joy, upon which they have invested billions and touted as the means to full spectrum dominance, is in fact already obsolete.

Iran may have been placed in the same position before if those stories of sabotage have any truth to them.

Having done this, have the Iranians tipped their hand? Or have they successfully deterred the US from a foolish and costly for everybody war.

Also b, if the goal is not to hijack a drone, but to simply disrupt/jam it's control signal and cause it to crash, would that be an easier task to accomplish? If so, aren't drones going to be the most expensive useless weapon pretty fast?

Posted by: Lysander | Dec 5, 2011 10:06:45 AM | 3

Only six weeks ago, Russia announced delivering the Avtobaza ground-based electronic intelligence and jamming system (Link) to Iran.

The blogger on this link thinks this is the weapon that aided the capture of the drone.

Posted by: Cloned Poster | Dec 5, 2011 10:58:13 AM | 4

Never underestimate Western determination and technological ingenuity Lysander. I'm sure countermeasures are being perfected as we speak.

Posted by: dh | Dec 5, 2011 11:00:29 AM | 5

Lysander,

The most likely scenario is that the drone, assuming it is the model asserted, was in fact in, or near, Iranian airspace.

Overall, there's little likelihood that there will be much hard information released regarding the incident. The Iranians won't publish imagery, as the damage pattern - or lack of it - would give some indication whether the drone was shot down, glitched or hijacked; this is tactically valuable information, and I would imagine that the Iranian military would want to create the maximum ambiguity/uncertainty possible.

The "fun" exercise here is to try to predict the disinformation patterns that will be propagated by the various parties.

Posted by: dan | Dec 5, 2011 11:00:41 AM | 6

CP

Well, that's interesting. On the basis of having "fun" with disinfo, this would be the Russian technology for export angle. Look at how well it works!

Posted by: dan | Dec 5, 2011 11:14:07 AM | 7

One way to prevent yourself from becoming a victim of a drone attack is to develop some sort of video game app that can steer the drone away from you and back towards the drone's base station where it blow it up. This is what I'd do if I were living in Pakistan or any other country that's become a victim this type of cowardly warfare.

Posted by: Cynthia | Dec 5, 2011 11:31:05 AM | 8

This also is taking place after last months downing of an Israeli drone by Hezbollah. Hard to imagine that the two drone seizures are unrelated given the close links between Iran/Hezbollah and the timing of less than a month apart.

Here is the orginal Daily Star story on the Israeli drone going down: http://www.dailystar.com.lb/News/Politics/2011/Nov-09/153450-speculation-continues-over-hezbollahs-ability-to-disable-israeli-drones.ashx#axzz1fg6v1CA0

" The recent mysterious disappearance of a suspected Israeli pilotless reconnaissance plane from the radar screen of the French UNIFIL battalion in south Lebanon has raised speculation that Hezbollah has found a way of electronically jamming and disabling drones."
In August 2010, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, Hezbollah’s secretary-general, revealed that in the mid-1990s the party had found a way to intercept and download the video feed from Israeli drones. The video footage was unencrypted at the time which allowed Hezbollah’s technicians to watch on television screens whatever the drones had been filming. According to Nasrallah, it was this intelligence-gathering technique that allowed Hezbollah to mount an ambush against a team of Israeli naval commandos beside the village of Ansariyah in September 1997, killing 12 of them. Israel began encrypting its drone video data following the Ansariyah debacle after suspecting that Hezbollah may have found a way to intercept it.

In the mid-1990s, Hezbollah’s electronic warfare capabilities were limited, mainly to scanners to record garrulous Israeli soldiers chatting on their cellphones in their frontline outposts.

Hezbollah’s electronic warfare and communications revolution took off from 2000 when it began building a military infrastructure of bunkers, tunnels and rocket-firing platforms in south Lebanon and connecting together its various facilities with a newly installed fiber-optic communications network.

Not only does Hezbollah have access to commercially available technology, it also benefits from Iran’s military-grade electronic warfare capabilities.

Although much attention is paid to Hezbollah’s acquisition of new weapons systems such as rockets and anti-aircraft assets, it is the advances in its electronic warfare capabilities – what one Hezbollah fighter termed the “war of brains” with Israel – that really illustrates the qualitative military leap Hezbollah has made in the past 15 years.


Posted by: Colm O' Toole | Dec 5, 2011 11:37:13 AM | 9

@Lysander - b, is it possible that the "over Iranian airspace" was just a cover? That the Iranians actually hijacked the drone over Pakistan?

Unlikely.

Having done this, have the Iranians tipped their hand? Or have they successfully deterred the US from a foolish and costly for everybody war.

They made a point that they are not defenseless and you can bet that some folks in the Pentagon have really bad headaches over this incident.

Also b, if the goal is not to hijack a drone, but to simply disrupt/jam it's control signal and cause it to crash, would that be an easier task to accomplish?

Any drone will likely have some preprogrammed plan for a total loss of communication. Likely "fly back to home base and crash at designated side near that" or something like that. That is why I believe the Iranians didn't only jammed its satellite connection but actively steered the drone to where they wanted it to go.

If so, aren't drones going to be the most expensive useless weapon pretty fast?

That has been my assessment for a long time. In any peer or near peer conflict drones will not be usable because of massive electronic jamming and other possible defensive measures against them. They have the advantage of not risking a pilots live but the distinct disadvantage of not having a thinking brain inside of them. Easy fodder for any capable anti-air system.

Posted by: b | Dec 5, 2011 12:08:57 PM | 10

Vorsprung durch Technik, good on you Iran

Posted by: hans | Dec 5, 2011 1:13:07 PM | 11

two thoughts

- the Us always starts its aggressions with destruction of enemy radars and AA capabilities; so Iran most of all needs, I guess, those AA missiles that Russians have been dangling before their eyes for too many years (btw, don't the Chinese have equivalent weapons?); but Iran is only a pawn in Russia's western-oriented policy

- reading the comments to the WP article linked to by b, I have the impression the public's attitude is changing; many cheered for the Iranians' technological success, as the best way to get the Us to get rid of its delirium of omnipotence; a few years ago, such comments would have been drowned by "patriotic" reactions

Posted by: claudio | Dec 5, 2011 2:05:48 PM | 12

of course iran has done this. Iran is the strongest country in the world, and stronger than the US by far

Posted by: ted | Dec 5, 2011 2:44:27 PM | 13

I doubt much intelligence was gathered from this crashed drone.

Posted by: Yoni Ra | Dec 5, 2011 3:54:22 PM | 14

If Iran Air Defense(AD) and Electronic Warfare(EW) assets did successfully detect and 'seize' the drone, then the further implication is other US stealth aircraft (F-117, B2), containing pilots, and utilized as the first waves of any strikes to destroy and suppress AD assets and target command and control (ie Shock and Awe, etc) are now at significant risk of detection and/or destruction and mission risk/failure by modern AD in a hypothetical conflict.

Modern multi-layered AD systems such as in Iran that cannot be initially destroyed/suppressed by such stealth strikes become incredibly expensive in terms of aircraft and pilots to engage with non stealth aircraft ... the total numbers of aircraft required to conduct even a single strike mission becomes somewhat prohibitive (ie 4 x Harm, 2 x EW, 4 x Escort, 4 x Strike aircraft) ...

Iran may well have sent a very clear message, with multiple implications ... US Planners will definitely be sweating ... and the Defense Attaches will have open checkbooks ...

@ Yoni Ra

Really ?

Posted by: Outraged | Dec 5, 2011 4:28:38 PM | 15

how does this story fit into the story about the damage to an Iranian long range missile development site?

how should one try to connect the dots?

Posted by: ab initio | Dec 5, 2011 4:29:23 PM | 16

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB126102247889095011.html

Insurgents Hack U.S. Drones
$26 Software Is Used to Breach Key Weapons in Iraq; Iranian Backing Suspected


"Senior defense and intelligence officials said Iranian-backed insurgents intercepted the video feeds by taking advantage of an unprotected communications link in some of the remotely flown planes' systems. Shiite fighters in Iraq used software programs such as SkyGrabber -- available for as little as $25.95 on the Internet -- to regularly capture drone video feeds, according to a person familiar with reports on the matter.


U.S. officials say there is no evidence that militants were able to take control of the drones or otherwise interfere with their flights. Still, the intercepts could give America's enemies battlefield advantages by removing the element of surprise from certain missions and making it easier for insurgents to determine which roads and buildings are under U.S. surveillance."

So there is evidence now that militants are able to take control of the flights?

No 16 I suggest that the story about the damage to the Iranian long range missile development site is an attempt not to look like having egg on the face.

Posted by: somebody | Dec 5, 2011 6:53:15 PM | 17

and there is this
http://www.wired.com/dangerroom/2011/06/iran-claims-launch-of-second-homebrew-satellite/

all they would need is to switch the satellite the drone takes orders from?

Posted by: somebody | Dec 5, 2011 7:08:42 PM | 18

Not that the various defense manufacturers haven't been known to do dumb things in the past, but even if Iran did learn how to intercept info from drones, it really should not be difficult to encrypt the info flowing between the drone and controller, as well as implementing safeguards to protect against the ability to hijack the controls, making this advantage short lived.

It is incredible that a drone, presumably costing many millions of dollars would send unencrypted data. If that is the case than I strongly question the design of his hunk of junk.

More concerning could be the detection Of this drone, and, depending on the method of detection, the overall advantage that the "stealth" jets provide. If this was done easily it wouldn't be surprising to see this proliferated throughout the various theaters. Hopefully this is the end of the Drone wars....but somehow I don't think so.

#13 Huh?

#14. Huh?

Posted by: Base | Dec 5, 2011 9:34:03 PM | 19

Russia downgrades tie with Qatar after its ambassador was attacked in Doha

http://rt.com/politics/russia-qatar-diplomacy-downgrade-059/

Posted by: nikon | Dec 5, 2011 10:41:17 PM | 20

Anyone want to bet that the Pentagon had a "Du'oh!" moment when they realized that while the feed going to the drone when it is in flight was heavily encrypted the signals used for take off and landing weren't......

Posted by: Johnboy | Dec 5, 2011 10:41:44 PM | 21

The pictures on Wiki - including the ones in the list of linked images - show that the wheels and undercarriage are much bigger and heavy duty than one would expect to see on a plane this size. The lumps on the wings are the tops of the wheel wells. If you look at the side-view you can see from the length of the landing gear flap that the wheels swing forward and rotate 180 degrees as they retract, which aligns them perfectly to swing up into the wing pods.

So ... a 'stealth' plan that can land just about anywhere.

Btw, "stealth" technology is a bit of a myth. If stealth paint really worked NO-ONE would build a plane without a tail fin (vertcal stabiliser). A plane without a tail fin barely qualifies as an aeroplane and all flying wings are incapable of evasive manoevres.

Posted by: Hoarsewhisperer | Dec 5, 2011 10:49:44 PM | 22

@ johnboy

"D'oh! Yeah D'oh. That's what they all say, they all say D'oh".

Your drone was designed and built by the lowest bidder ... the actual production, delivery and operating costs are of course then inflated exponentially ...

@ Hoarsewhisperer

Regarding the wing planform being incapable of evasive manouevres ... interesting.

Posted by: Outraged | Dec 5, 2011 11:14:59 PM | 23

A 65ft wingspan? That's bigger than a Cessna Citation, that's not a stealth drone but a waste of money. Don't we have a fleet of satellites that can accomplish the same thing?

Posted by: Fred | Dec 6, 2011 12:12:44 AM | 24

of course you all know that it is possible to hack encryption ...

http://hackaday.com/tag/encryption/

basically anything done with a computer can be hacked, however, mostly, security vulnerability is human. security and hacking are two sides of the same qualification, computing is very diverse, to copy a piece of software is very easy, you reuse and not reinvent in that profession, after a few years in management you do no longer understand the details of what the people you supervise are doing, there is a professional code & a necessity of information share, and a lot has been outsourced to India anyway (have a look at the map .-)).

also speed might be an issue, so there might be good reason for not encrypting some stuff

wikileaks is the tip of the iceberg, they basically work for free, out in the open, and rely on ethically motivated whistleblowers. the black market for information must be immense.

drones have no future.

Posted by: somebody | Dec 6, 2011 2:22:10 AM | 25

LA Times: Drone that crashed in Iran may give away U.S. secrets

The radar-evading drone that crash-landed over the weekend in Iran was on a mission for the CIA, according to a senior U.S. official, raising fears that the aircraft's sophisticated technology could be exploited by Tehran or shared with other American rivals.
...
The jet-powered, bat-winged RQ-170 Sentinel drone is considered one of the most advanced in the U.S. arsenal, with stealth technology and sophisticated computer systems that enable it to penetrate deep into hostile territory without detection.
...
"It carries a variety of systems that wouldn't be much of a benefit to Iran, but to its allies such as China and Russia, it's a potential gold mine," Singer said.
...
Ever since it was developed at Lockheed Martin Corp.'s famed Skunk Works facility in Palmdale, the Sentinel drone has been cloaked in tight secrecy by the U.S. government. But now the drone that the Iranian military claims to have brought down for invading its airspace might be made far more public than the Pentagon or Lockheed ever intended.

Another U.S. official with access to intelligence said that losing the Sentinel is a major security breach. The official, who was not authorized to publicly speak about the information, wouldn't say how the drone fell into Iranian hands, but confirmed that the downed drone was largely intact.

Posted by: b | Dec 6, 2011 2:25:34 AM | 26

According to the Guardian article linked in a comment on the previous thread, this is the 3rd drone 'disappeared' by Iran this year.

@ Outraged - there's nothing wrong with the planform. The problem is lateral stability caused by omitting a vertical tail fin BEHIND the wings. You steer a tail-less flying wing by raising a flap to slow a wing down. Flying wings come to grief by either by dropping into an unrecoverable side-slip, or by somersaulting end--over-end like a leaf fluttering to the ground if they stall. Sweeping the wings back helps to reduce this effect.

If anyone offers you a lift in a flying wing my advice would be DON'T GO unless you're wearing a parachute and can sit next to a door.

Posted by: Hoarsewhisperer | Dec 6, 2011 2:28:46 AM | 27

plus, if they can do it, anybody can do it ...

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Echelon_%28signals_intelligence%29

Posted by: somebody | Dec 6, 2011 2:51:01 AM | 29

@24 "Don't we have a fleet of satellites that can accomplish the same thing?"

Well, yeah, but satellites tend to follow their own path across the sky, which means they aren't much good if you want to follow in real time....

Posted by: Johnboy | Dec 6, 2011 3:54:26 AM | 30

@24 "Don't we have a fleet of satellites that can accomplish the same thing?"

They do sometimes have clouds over Iran and it is fairly easy to spot satellites and then establish when they are in the neighbourhood and stop doing what you are doing when they are overhead. The US has some recce satellites (maybe one) which have been "disappeared" though I suspect the Russians and Chinese know where it is but are not making it public so as not to give away their secrets.

BTW, looking at the satellite pictures of the alleged missile base that blew up, the storage buildings are awfully close together, have pressed steel walls and there are no berms around the buildings to deflect any blast upwards. This suggest that the Iranians are getting amateurish, arrogant or are just plain stupid. Since they seem to be none of these, I am a bit puzzled.

Posted by: blowback | Dec 6, 2011 6:42:27 AM | 31

Thanks Dan and b,

b, regarding loss of control and a drone's return to base pre-programming, isn't it possible to jam it's connections to GPS satellites? Could it return home without positioning data?

And even if the drone does "RTB," isn't that better than completing it's mission?

Posted by: Lysander | Dec 6, 2011 9:35:11 AM | 32

31 Blowback: Is it possible that what the satellite imagery shows is something other than a missile base? Or, perhaps I'm simply articulating what you're suggesting.

Posted by: scottindallas | Dec 6, 2011 10:33:00 AM | 33

It seems logical that drone vs. drone warfare will get to a stalemate, and then how will drones be used?

I heard a discussion this past weekend that said drones will have a future -- mostly for domestic surveillance. Very small drones are being used (trials right now, I think) by municipal police departments and other law enforcement. Two pounds, with high-power lenses for tracking fleeing suspects and searching for lost or hiding persons.

Also, drones could be used to spray crops, etc., for agriculture. Big Agriculture? Or could small farmers afford such crop dusting?

The person positing this said drones can stay over a person's house or neighborhood day and night, on and on and on, for nearly constant surveillance. And, also, eventually they could be used to by papparazzi. Or detecting whether homeowners are breaking association by-laws.... Or could be used by, oh, stalkers...peeping toms.

So, Big Brother will be watching not only through CATV but also from the skies via drones.

Are they working on audio surveillance from these drones?

Anything will be justified in the name of security, bringing to mind Ben Franklin's observation: They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.

Posted by: jawbone | Dec 6, 2011 10:35:02 AM | 34

@ Hoarsewhisperer

Cheers, was late tired, clarification much appreciated. A disconnect between the voice in my head and the keyboard, no idea why I typed 'wing planform', d'uh. ;)

Posted by: Outraged | Dec 6, 2011 11:18:40 AM | 35

@33 - Is it possible that what the satellite imagery shows is something other than a missile base? Or, perhaps I'm simply articulating what you're suggesting.

Well it doesn't look like a site where you would handle, process or store explosives or propellants for rockets. As for ISIS who provided the "analysis", they were largely responsible for the dubious reports about the "Box on the Euphrates" and the Syrian spinning factory.

Posted by: blowback | Dec 6, 2011 11:40:29 AM | 36

I'm sorry but the delivery of the russian radar system just came 6 weeks ago your telling me they engineers have been trained in 6 weeks no way hezbollah have been taking down israeli drones for years and they even had their own drones in israeli airspace but otherwise good article

Posted by: Naeem | Dec 6, 2011 12:23:25 PM | 37

Glenn Greenwald discusses last night's NPR commercial for the use of drones domestically.

Even leaving aside the issue of weaponization (police officials now openly talk about equipping drones with “nonlethal weapons such as Tasers or a bean-bag gun”), the use of drones for domestic surveillance raises all sorts of extremely serious privacy concerns and other issues of potential abuse. Their ability to hover in the air undetected for long periods of time along with their comparatively cheap cost enables a type of broad, sustained societal surveillance that is now impractical, while equipping them with infra-red or heat-seeking detectors and high-powered cameras can provide extremely invasive imagery. The holes eaten into the Fourth Amendment’s search and seizure protections by the Drug War and the War on Terror means there are few Constitutional limits on how this technology can be used, and there are no real statutory or regulatory restrictions limiting their use. In sum, the potential for abuse is vast, the escalation in surveillance they ensure is substantial, and the effect they have on the culture of personal privacy — having the state employ hovering, high-tech, stealth video cameras that invade homes and other private spaces — is simply creepy.

Posted by: jawbone | Dec 6, 2011 1:19:28 PM | 38

I'm reading more warmonging propaganda around Iran today. Daily Mirror or other 'british' sources repeated in circular fashion by the usual Israeli propaganda outlets (YNet and Debka). Which I guess it means there won't be a war anytime soon as surprise attacks are not announced and real wars (like Yugoslavia, Iraq or Libya) require a long preparation and you can see them coming from miles away. Of course the 'planned' movement of Russia's only carrier to their Syrian base in Tartus isn't precisely reassuring. Like in 'just in case we need a nuclear power to stand in the way of other nuclear powers going MAD'.

Posted by: ThePaper | Dec 6, 2011 1:37:12 PM | 39

@Lysander - b, regarding loss of control and a drone's return to base pre-programming, isn't it possible to jam it's connections to GPS satellites? Could it return home without positioning data?

Today about anything military that uses GPS also has an inert navigation backup. The chips for that are so small that they are even in today's mobile phones.

@blowback - BTW, looking at the satellite pictures of the alleged missile base that blew up, the storage buildings are awfully close together, have pressed steel walls and there are no berms around the buildings to deflect any blast upwards. This suggest that the Iranians are getting amateurish, arrogant or are just plain stupid. Since they seem to be none of these, I am a bit puzzled.

That wasn't a "missile base". The whole are is a large research and test complex used for artillery testing and training and several miles wide and long with several bigger enclosed areas.

The part that exploded (map) is a small enclosed area within in a bigger enclosed one (map) which includes (to the east of the first one) tunnel entrances to underground bunkers, barracks and some administrative buildings.

The place that exploded was likely used for preparation for rocket motor tests. About a mile south of it are horizontal test stands (map) for such visible. One can see the blast pattern behind them.

Further 4 miles south there is a base for a cannon artillery regiment which seems to also use the area for training (map).

There are also several high rise manufacturing buildings strewn around likely used for erecting missiles.

I do not know what happened in the incident but they were probably preparing as missile for an experimental test and something went wrong. The U.S. and the USSR had each dozens of such deadly explosions when they launched their space programs.

Posted by: b | Dec 6, 2011 2:31:51 PM | 40

".....no idea why I typed 'wing planform'....."

Ruygytf Treszx Fytiojjkn!!!!!

Posted by: PissedOffAmerican | Dec 6, 2011 10:24:27 PM | 41

NPR’s domestic drone commercial

Speaking of Drones... Drones, drones everywhere...

No Wait, the drones...

Posted by: Uncle | Dec 6, 2011 11:18:36 PM | 42

The arms control wonk on the missile blast in Iran and before-after picture at the BBC site.

Posted by: b | Dec 7, 2011 3:11:47 AM | 43

If I remember correctly the computer systems at Lockheed was hacked about 8 months ago, the hackers may have been looking for information that would compromise the encryption on the drones that Lockheed manufactures. But hey, I'm just an amateur, what would I know? HUMMM!

Posted by: X | Dec 7, 2011 10:53:46 AM | 44

If the Drone crashed the Pentagon would have info from the craft's uplink feed showing a spiraling down trajectory, right?

Posted by: X | Dec 7, 2011 11:08:02 AM | 45

if I look at the "after" picture that the beeb shows in b's link above and strap on my tinfoil hat, the base looks like it was bombed with precision weapons. perhaps a small fleet of drones simultaneously fired hellfire missiles at all those buildings at once. the charred spots could be secondary explosions from something that was inside some of the building. I would further hazard to say that it was an assassination since a very high value target was taken out.

who knows? what could Iran say? if they were to publicly accuse the US of such an attack, there would be intense internal pressure from the Iranian people to respond.

anyone care to tell me how far off I am?

Posted by: dan of steele | Dec 7, 2011 2:27:25 PM | 46

@ dan of steele

My initial thoughts too ... still are, so far.

Posted by: Outraged | Dec 7, 2011 2:52:54 PM | 47

@dan of steele - please check the ArmsControlWonk posting linked above and the comments thereto. There are some decent knowledgeable folks commenting there who calculated the power of the explosion. Much more damage than a few Hellfires could do. More like some accident blowing up a two stage solid fuel missile. There is nothing comparable in the U.S. arsenal that could do such damage and would be deliverable undetected and unopposed in Iran.

Posted by: b | Dec 7, 2011 2:58:13 PM | 48

Had read ACW ... Thermobaric or Air fuel explosive warheads instead of conventional HE causing sympathetic missile fuel explosion ?

Posted by: Outraged | Dec 7, 2011 3:45:57 PM | 49

First of all I am APPALLED at the lack of patriotism that is displayed on this site. If you don't like the United States then GET THE HELL OUT AND GO LIVE IN SOCIALIST EUROPE AND JOIN IN THE RIOTS YOU DIRT BAGS!! The United States of America is and has been the finest nation in the history of the world!!!!...big statement I know but it is TRUE!!! We put every other nation to shame including ancient Rome, and the Ancient country of Egypt. There is no nation on earth other than the U.S. who has fed, clothed, treated more diseases, and educated as many people as we have. We have given our sons, daughters, fathers, and mothers' blood on the battle field to free foreign lands more so than any other nation on earth. We have advanced technology, provided the most health care in the world, and saved millions from death resulting from disease. No other nation on earth has EVER done more than the United States of America to provide a better life for literally billions of people over the last century. We invented the radio the television, the light bulb, the heart-lung machine, space travel, the personal computer, the microwave and more. We invented the Segway, hybrid engine technology, fuel efficient passenger jets, bio-fuels, life saving medical devices and pharmaceuticals. NEVER BET AGAINST THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA... YOU WILL LOSE! ARE WE PERFECT... NO! HOWEVER, WE ARE THE FINEST NATION THE WORLD HAS EVER KNOWN AND DON'T YOU FORGET IT, So what if the Iranians captured one of our RQ 170 UAVs? WE WILL OVERCOME IT QUITE EASILY! HAVE FAITH IN THE U.S.! WE ARE AN EXCEPTIONAL NATION. We have NO EQUAL!

Posted by: Petty Officer Jon B. Ingtram United States NAVY | Dec 7, 2011 8:07:49 PM | 50

@50:

...
And in comes Romeo, he’s moaning
“You Belong to Me I Believe!”
And someone says, “You’re in the wrong place my friend
You better leave.”...

(Desolation Row - Bob Dylan)

Posted by: Dr. Wellington Yueh | Dec 7, 2011 8:56:26 PM | 51

I tend to agree with Dr. Yueh but here’s another approach.

Jon, when on active duty in the 50's & 60's, and in college and as a working engineer for about twenty years afterward, I would have agreed with you and shouted “hurray Jon.” As a veteran and active service officer in an American Legion who has opened his eyes to the continuing
atrocities of America since the Spanish American war I would modify “The United States of America is and has been the finest nation in the history of the world!!!!” to: “The United States of America {was} the finest nation in the history of the world!!!!” The US of America as it was envisaged by our founding fathers has been hijacked and denigrated to a plutocracy of the elite by the corporate interests for and in service to themselves only. We were warned by another military man and president “In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.” I suggest you start your awakening by reading Eisenhower’s Military-Industrial Complex Speech Eisenhower’s insight was indeed prescient.

Patriotism is a far cry from believing the utterances of those in control and saluting a flag which they usurped. Wake up man and don’t fall into the pettiness by clinging to old and obsolete beliefs.

Posted by: juannie | Dec 7, 2011 9:57:27 PM | 52

There is no nation on earth other than the U.S. who has fed, clothed, treated more diseases, and educated as many people as we have.
yes, specially your own.. it is a privilege to live under such benign reign, shall we not forget

Posted by: citizen x | Dec 7, 2011 11:00:38 PM | 53

@50 ( Petty Officer Jon B. Ingtram United States NAVY):

Mein Führer, is that you?? :)

Posted by: RT | Dec 8, 2011 12:02:49 AM | 54

A tweet from a Farsi reader:

borzou Borzou Daragahi
#Iran Brig-Gen Hajizadeh: drone caught thru "precise electronic monitoring," "caught in electronic ambush," "brought down w min damage" fars
Fits my description.

Posted by: b | Dec 8, 2011 12:02:33 PM | 55

What if it's a Trojan horse and inside the drone's hardware/software configuration, resides a virus ready to infect every Iranian node it comes in contact with over the next year.

Posted by: Byron | Dec 8, 2011 10:20:50 PM | 56

It's too bad we dont have the ability to remotely destroy the drone. Would be pretty damn funny to let their top scientists huddle around the drone and then blow the damn thing into a million pieces.....

Posted by: Tyler | Dec 8, 2011 10:22:54 PM | 57

"It's too bad we dont have the ability to remotely destroy the drone. Would be pretty damn funny to let their top scientists huddle around the drone and then blow the damn thing into a million pieces....."

I'd love a penny for every time that particular wet dream gets wheeled out in the days to come......

Posted by: Johnboy | Dec 8, 2011 10:43:06 PM | 58

Even if that control signal is encrypted pattern recognition during many flights over four years would have given them enough information to break the code.

Do you even know anything about encryption?

Posted by: Jon | Dec 9, 2011 5:29:13 AM | 59

BACK TO THE DRAWING BOARD !

Posted by: EDSEL ANDREW DAVIDSON JR. | Dec 9, 2011 10:21:03 AM | 60

@ Petty Officer Jon B. Ingtram United States NAVY

Spot on parody of a drooling moron. Well played sir.

Posted by: ran | Dec 9, 2011 10:42:17 AM | 61

Petty Officer Jon B. Ingtram United States NAVY , PTSD much bro? Chill out.

Posted by: anon | Dec 9, 2011 12:36:52 PM | 62

@Jon Do you even know anything about encryption?

Yes, I programmed several myself. There are strong ones and weak ones and the weak ones can be defeated.

Usually one does not implement the strongest one on everything because good encryption has the nasty habit of eating up lots of computing power and to take time.

I suggested that the line-of-sight link was hijacked. The link would usually only be used during start and landing which is supposed to happen in friendly territory. No need for strong encryption in there plus that link is time-critical, i.e. should have no delays. The system designer may well have thought that a few XORs would enough to take care of security on that link.

@Tyler Would be pretty damn funny to let their top scientists huddle around the drone and then blow the damn thing into a million pieces.....

You seem to think that killing people is funny. Hey, maybe even your neighbor thinks so. Sleep well tonight.

Posted by: b | Dec 9, 2011 1:16:22 PM | 63

I m Pakistani citizen and i salute to the iranian military programers who done such a nice job, i appeal to the IRAN govt that make the copy of it and use it it against the america .......

Posted by: Mian Kasteer k.k | Dec 9, 2011 1:47:07 PM | 64

If a drone is located over the space of a Nation, then this drone is on the mercy of this Nation. If Russia and China has the technology to locate a drone than all Nations has this capability if Russia and China will COMPITE to the WEST.

Posted by: RMV | Dec 9, 2011 7:09:25 PM | 65

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