A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Friday, December 9, 2011

A Few Thoughts on That Lost RQ-170

I haven't yet talked about the apparent US loss of a highly classified RQ-170 remotely piloted vehicle over Iran. Iran's publication of video of the purported drone seem to suggest it is largely intact. Some leaked suggestions in the US have raised the question of whether the vehicle on display might be a mockup or might have been reassembled after a breakup. The US has doubted Iranian claims that they hacked the aircraft's guidance and landed it. First some background on the RQ-170, and the video:

My own two cents: obviously this is an intelligence setback. Most of the commentary I've heard has focused on the highly classified stealthy material of which the vehicle is made, but there's another point as well: even the exact mission of the vehicle has been highly classified. Is it for photography, electronic snooping, signals intelligence, radar suppression, or some combination? Even if the data gathered over Iran (and the cover story that it went astray from Afghan airspace is a flimsy one &emdash; you don't need stealth against the Taliban. who have only shoulder-launched SAMs) has been erased before the vehicle came down, the nature of the equipment on board will reveal more than the Iranians or anyone else previously knew about the mission of the aircraft. A real intelligence blow to the US in any event.

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