Moon of Alabama Brecht quote
December 04, 2012

The Persian Cats Take Down Another Drone

A year ago Iran managed to take down a U.S. stealthy RQ-170 drone that violated its airspace without much damage.

Persian cats taking down made in Iran RQ-170 training drones
Photo via Thomas Erdbrink - bigger

Today Iran took down another, smaller U.S. drone. A Boeing Scan Eagle which might have been launched from a ship in the Persian Gulf. The video, below the fold, shows that the Iranians caught this one, like the other one, without any obvious damage. All that cat training was obviously quite successful.

While some believe that GPS spoofing, overriding the original GPS signal with a deceiving one, is the way Iran could have done this, I doubt that and I still find my old explanation the more plausible one:

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.

The U.S. (and Israel) are routinely violating other countries airspace. This might one day come back to haunt them. The technological development of drones is no longer a hurdle and soon other countries will also have many of them. Hizbullah flying a drone above Israels Dimona reactor is just a sign of things to come.

We also must again emphasize that despite five years of continued illegal drone espionage over Iran the U.S. has found not one bit of evidence of any existence of an Iranian nuclear weapons program.

One wonders if future officials will resent their forerunner's dumb idea of creating a customary law of air violations for the senseless quest for proof of an Iranian program that does not exist.


Press TV has now put up a longer, more detailed video.

Posted by b on December 4, 2012 at 14:35 UTC | Permalink


It is proved that the method of downing these drones, small or big is the Russian lorry-based jamming equipment Autobasa. Google that.

Posted by: ivan | Dec 4 2012 14:47 utc | 1

Avtobaza, sorry.

Posted by: ivan | Dec 4 2012 14:49 utc | 2

Wikipedia reports that Australia, Canada and the Netherlands all operate Scan Eagles and they all have the capability of maintaining naval ships in the Persian Gulf so the US could be being honest when they deny it is them but are being disingenuous in failing to reveal who was actually operating it.

Posted by: blowback | Dec 4 2012 14:55 utc | 3

RT, Jun 27, 2012
Texas college hacks drone in front of DHS

There are a lot of cool things you can do with $1,000, but scientists at an Austin, Texas college have come across one that is often overlooked: for less than a grand, how’d you like to hijack a drone? A group of researchers led by Professor Todd Humphreys from the University of Texas at Austin Radionavigation Laboratory recently succeeded in raising the eyebrows of the US government. With just around $1,000 in parts, Humphreys’ team took control of an unmanned aerial vehicle owned by the college, all in front of the US Department of Homeland Security.

After being challenged by his lab, the DHS dared Humphreys’ crew to hack into a drone and take command. Much to their chagrin, they did exactly that. Humphrey tells Fox News that for a few hundred dollars his team was able to “spoof” the GPS system on board the drone, a technique that involves mimicking the actual signals sent to the global positioning device and then eventually tricking the target into following a new set of commands. And, for just $1,000, Humphreys says the spoofer his team assembled was the most advanced one ever built.

Posted by: Don Bacon | Dec 4 2012 15:27 utc | 4

Here we go again.
NYTimes, Dec 4, 2012

A spokesman for the United States Navy in Bahrain denied the Iranian claim, saying that no American drones were missing.

“The U.S. Navy has fully accounted for all unmanned air vehicles (UAV) operating in the Middle East region. Our operations in the gulf are confined to internationally recognized water and air space,” a spokesman for United States Naval Forces Central Command in Bahrain said, according to Reuters. “We have no record that we have lost any ScanEagles recently.”

Even if Iran obtained a ScanEagle for the video from a US ally, which I doubt, it would be a cool propaganda move in a propaganda-driven news-world.

Posted by: Don Bacon | Dec 4 2012 15:43 utc | 5

Much of the US arsenal is designed to attack much weaker 3rd world countries and would be useless against near-peer competitors. Drones in that sense are a lot like aircraft carriers. They look big and scary and can certainly wreak havoc on smaller countries but would be sunk in any confrontation with Russia and China.

I wonder, though, what would be the result if hundreds of drones were used in a mass attack. Trying to take control of them wouldn't seem practical. Would it be possible, hypothetically to jam their control signal, making them either crash or return to base?

Posted by: Lysander | Dec 4 2012 15:47 utc | 6

Included in news of November's Persian Gulf mine-clearing exercise was this:

In addition to the current technologies aboard mine-clearing ships and sonar sleds hauled through the water below MH-53 helicopters, the Navy is increasing the number of unmanned, remotely piloted systems deployed in the region.

This would include unmanned systems deployed by other naval ships in the area, presumably. A lost drone from another navy would make the Navy's denial technically correct. But they have so many ways to deny events which actually happened, like: “We have no record that we have lost any ScanEagles recently.” i.e. we lost not only a drone but also the record?

Posted by: Don Bacon | Dec 4 2012 17:06 utc | 7

I'd be surprised if this was NOT a US asset, but that doesn't mean it has to be a Navy asset. ScanEagle deploys with the Navy on destroyers and subs. ScanEagle also deploys with the Army and with some three letter agencies.

But this doesn't mean that those agencies own the aircraft. It's common for the agencies to contract with Insitu / Boeing for X hours of video surveillance / month. Insitu then maintains and flies the aircraft with its own operators as directed by the US agency. It's insanely lucrative for Insitu / Boeing, and provides the US government with a fig leaf for situations like this one.

Integrator has a more traditional aircraft business model, should it actually get finished.

Posted by: Kelly | Dec 4 2012 18:21 utc | 8

The interesting thing for me is that Thomas Erdbrink of the New York Times is not sparing any effort to make this an internet meme. Where did he get the model drone from and where the cats? Where is the video?

Or are they talking about something else completely

Posted by: somebody | Dec 4 2012 19:17 utc | 9

@Kelly 8
Does Insitu hire guys like this?

Washington Post, Nov 30, 2012
Craig Whitlock, “Drone Crashes Mount at Civilian Airports"

The U.S. Air Force drone, on a classified spy mission over the Indian Ocean, was destined for disaster from the start. An inexperienced military contractor in shorts and a T-shirt, flying by remote control from a trailer at Seychelles International Airport, committed blunder after blunder in six minutes on April 4.

He sent the unarmed MQ-9 Reaper drone off without permission from the control tower. A minute later, he yanked the wrong lever at his console, killing the engine without realizing why.

As he tried to make an emergency landing, he forgot to put down the wheels. The $8.9 million aircraft belly-flopped on the runway, bounced and plunged into the tropical waters at the airport’s edge, according to a previously undisclosed Air Force accident investigation report.

The drone crashed at a civilian airport that serves a half-million passengers a year, most of them sun-seeking tourists. No one was hurt, but it was the second Reaper accident in five months — under eerily similar circumstances.

Posted by: Don Bacon | Dec 4 2012 19:48 utc | 10

Look he forgot to put the wheels down OK? This is war. Sh*t happens.

Posted by: dh | Dec 4 2012 19:53 utc | 11

from Boeing:
ScanEagle is launched autonomously via a pneumatic wedge catapult launcher and flies pre-programmed or operator-initiated missions guided by GPS and its onboard flight-control system. It is retrieved using a "Skyhook" system in which the UAV catches a rope hanging from a 50-foot high pole. The patented system allows ScanEagle to be runway independent and operate from forward fields, mobile vehicles or small ships.

Posted by: Don Bacon | Dec 4 2012 20:27 utc | 12

what a clever puss!

Posted by: brian | Dec 4 2012 20:37 utc | 13

The US has had two carrier groups in the Iran area for some time, but now they are down to one. The Navy has said that it will temporarily shrink its aircraft carrier presence in the Persian Gulf area from two to one because of a mechanical problem with the USS Nimitz, a carrier based in Bremerton, Wash. The Nimitz was scheduled to deploy in January to relieve the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower, but that will be put off until summer in order to complete repairs to its propulsion system. So only the Stennis group is there currently.

The Navy seems to have a permanent presence in the Persian Gulf, and is doubling the size of its base in Bahrain. The big question is, why does the US need a naval presecnce in the Persian Gulf?

Usually the reasons given are (1) protect shipping (2) monitor Iran and (3) scare the locals, or in Navy-speak: ""influence events ashore by countering both land- and sea-based military forces of potential regional threats." Let's look at these.

1. The Strait of Hormuz is the world's most important oil chokepoint due to its daily oil flow of about 17 million bbl/d in 2011, up from between 15.7-15.9 million bbl/d in 2009-2010. Flows through the Strait in 2011 were roughly 35 percent of all seaborne traded oil, or almost 20 percent of oil traded worldwide. More than 85 percent of these crude oil exports went to Asian markets, with Japan, India, South Korea, and China representing the largest destinations.

Why does the US need to secure Asian commercial traffic, since these countries (particularly China) are eating the US's financial lunch? (Same goes for the South China Sea.)

2. Monitor Iran? That isn't working out too well.

3. Scare Iran? That hasn't worked either. In fact, what would scare Iran most is if all the naval warships were pulled out of the Gulf, and the US bases evacuated. Until then, they are being held hostage by Iran cruise missiles. The naval ships and bases are easy targets for cruise and ballistic missiles.

Posted by: Don Bacon | Dec 4 2012 20:48 utc | 14

Those aren't Persian cats either.

Posted by: Cyrus | Dec 5 2012 0:56 utc | 16


"Suppose the U.S. had 100% of its own energy right here. That wouldn't affect in the least American desire to control the Middle East because we want to make sure that nobody else has access to those cheap resources of energy. One of the ways the U.S. keeps control over Europe and Japan is by having a stranglehold on their energy supply. Therefore, if there was a solar energy or shale breakthrough, giving the U.S. its own energy supply completely independent of Middle East oil, we still would want to ensure control over that region as long as Middle East oil remained cheap and accessible."

This from a Chomsky interview in 1977! Now 'pivot' that logic to Asia and see how the control of Middle Eastern energy sources remains crucial for a new century of geopolitics.

Posted by: thirsty | Dec 5 2012 3:14 utc | 17

the chosen people are outraged at being treated like common mortals..why dont the UN forcue on the evil iran?...Israeli memo: ' remember to kick Obamas butt to get him to kick UN butt....'

Posted by: brian | Dec 5 2012 11:53 utc | 18

b, those are American domestic shorthairs, they're not Persians. If you're this sloppy on this easily verified info, how can anyone trust you???

Kudos on the Syrian WMD mixing story--the Pentagon confirmed your take this morning.

Posted by: scottindallas | Dec 5 2012 14:16 utc | 19

"ScanEagle is launched autonomously via a pneumatic wedge catapult launcher and flies pre-programmed or operator-initiated missions guided by GPS and its onboard flight-control system. It is retrieved using a "Skyhook" system in which the UAV catches a rope hanging from a 50-foot high pole. The patented system allows ScanEagle to be runway independent and operate from forward fields, mobile vehicles or small ships" this is absolutly correct so i dont belive the IRGC took over the drone's line-of-sight control.
I belive they just retrieved it whth some kind of improvised "Skyhook" system.

Posted by: Anony | Dec 5 2012 16:04 utc | 20

@20 They showed it some pictures of a nude Kardashian. They are trained to follow automatically.

Posted by: dh | Dec 5 2012 16:48 utc | 21

Those Persian cats are not immune to drone problems.

Report: Sudanese Drone Down in Khartoum Area

KHARTOUM — A Sudanese military drone went down Dec. 5 in Khartoum’s twin city of Omdurman, the official SUNA news agency said, but there was no apparent damage or casualties on the ground. “A pilotless military plane has gone down” inside Omdurman, a heavily populated area, SUNA said in a brief SMS alert that gave no further details.

Witnesses told an AFP reporter that the aircraft, about five meters (yards) long, came down in an open area of the city, far from any homes. “The plane lay on the ground, and then a number of SAF (Sudanese Armed Forces) with trucks came to the area and took it,” said one witness who asked not to be identified.

In an April report, the Small Arms Survey, a Swiss-based independent research project, showed photographs of what it described as an Iranian-made Ababil-3 UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) that was reportedly shot down by rebels in South Kordofan state. “SAF has employed similar UAVs over Darfur for reconnaissance,” the report said, referring to the Sudanese Armed Forces, which have been battling rebels in the far-west Darfur region for nine years.

Posted by: Don Bacon | Dec 5 2012 19:12 utc | 22

Kvant 1L222 Avtobaza is acquisition radar, it is equipped with passive sensors. All it can do is to locate potential target. If you read carefully:

The Avtobaza ELINT system is designed to detect airborne side-looking radars, air-to-ground fire-control radars and low-altitude flight control radars, as well as to provide intelligence data for the 1L125M APUR.

So, it is not jammer system. Does Iranian has 1L125M APUR or NNIIRT 1L119 Nebo SVU or NEBO-M we do not know. If they do, it is more likely it is of the Chinese (clone) origin of Russian ones. I doubt that Russian assholes would sold that system to Iranians.

Posted by: neretva'43 | Dec 6 2012 0:16 utc | 23

There is a series of shots of the launch of a ScanEagle from the USS Ponce - that "troop base platform" they deployed recently to the Gulf.

If that is where this ScanEagle came from, rather than Kandahar, I'm not sure how they could have intercepted the "line of sight" control transmission unless Iran had a signals intelligence ship (or sub) between the Ponce and Iran.

The ScanEagle is easily launched from a wedge-shaped launching platform as someone noted above and as the Ponce pictures show. It's only about 4-7 feet long with a wingspan of 10-15 feet. That would be very hard to detect in the air by radar especially if it flew low in its inbound trajectory.

Based on the ease with which this thing is launched and recovered, my guess is they launch drone missions daily over Iran. Iran needs to get better at detecting and downing these things.

Posted by: Richard Steven Hack | Dec 6 2012 0:52 utc | 24

@RSH 24
Thanks. The USS Ponce figures (ref. my #7). That's the tub that controls all the allied mine clearance (and makes it a prime cruise missile target when the balloon goes up). Looks like it took on more than mine clearance, if in fact it was operating over Iran.

AP, Sep 22, 2012 -- A new addition to the Fifth Fleet warships in the Persian Gulf is the USS Ponce. After winning a reprieve from the scrapyard, the USS Ponce was reborn through a rush retrofit earlier this year and turned into a floating base prowling the waters of the Persian Gulf. It is now getting its biggest workout since refurbishment as the centerpiece for sweeping anti-mine naval exercises under way that serve as a very public warning to Iran.

Posted by: Don Bacon | Dec 6 2012 2:01 utc | 25

So there is the possibility that, if the ScanEagle was operating in a mine-search mode over the Gulf, that Iran took control of it not over Iran but over the Gulf.

Posted by: Don Bacon | Dec 6 2012 2:21 utc | 26

Iranians keep saying that they "recovered" data from the drone, which I doubt. It probably uses some generation of ROVER, so there is nothing to recover.

Posted by: neretva'43 | Dec 6 2012 2:33 utc | 27

Yes, ROVER is real time and ScanEagle is a suitable platform.

Posted by: Don Bacon | Dec 6 2012 2:46 utc | 28

27, real time does not mean the data is not stored. The Iranians know their geography, so the most interesting thing for them would be to "recover" the latest ROVER system.

Posted by: somebody | Dec 6 2012 2:47 utc | 29

i'm following iranian media closely. They only thing they KEPT saying was that they have recovered an American ScanEagle drone. You are probably giving to much credit to what the Western media is claiming that Iran is saying.

Posted by: ATH | Dec 6 2012 2:48 utc | 30

Yes, we shouldn't forget that the technical aspects, whatever they are, are much less important than the propaganda values.

Posted by: Don Bacon | Dec 6 2012 3:02 utc | 31

IRGC: Captured US drone data extracted

Read it for yourself..."closely".

It's rather this:

Posted by: neretva'43 | Dec 6 2012 3:35 utc | 32


Iranians are REPEATEDLY (KEEP) saying that they have captured the drone. The might have said 2 times that they have recovered DATA from it. As somebody said in 29 realtime streaming is not equivalent to no data (or no information) being there.

Posted by: ATH | Dec 6 2012 13:59 utc | 33

Press TV poses challenge to Western monopoly on media

"The Plan Iran Option B, can be correctly recognized as the Korean Model to diplomatic crisis management.

In short, the west having accepted (behind doors, watch the changing tone and behaviour as key indicators of strategic changes to crisis management) that they can not stop Iran becoming a nuclear power, because they can not afford, or even be able to use force against her (in limited nature or outright war), without disturbing the nature of geopolitical power relations with China and Russia, and probably with the greater Islamic populace especially in the region, and those Iranian allies (Shias majority) of Hezbullah, Bahrain, Qatari and others who might further escalate (that a blowback) downfalls of their/western own proxies via their own new ''Arab Spring'' against these most valuable western proxies in the region found within the Persian Gulf community.

So the west thus seem to have decided on an outright North Korean strategic approach of starving, encircling and isolating Iran from the International politics, economics and finances.

This is why the west is banning PressTV, or is forcing a closure of diplomatic embassies, or is breaking off relations of all form with Iran, and we can claim (with delusional hopes that) EU-in-totality is not in agreement, but the truth is this is temporal and as time and events passes on, there will be a complete agreement within the western community (as well as those western proxy ''partnerships'' in international system) to ''shun out'' Iran like it has been with North Korea: hence, I refer to this approach as the Korean Model (intended to stop all relations, exchanges and communications)."

Posted by: вот так | Dec 26 2012 20:00 utc | 34

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