Lockheed Martin RQ-170 Sentinel Video - News Report About Loss of Drone in Iran
Lockheed Martin RQ-170 Sentinel
Aircraft Picture - Artist's rendering
Role: Unmanned aerial vehicle
Manufacturer: Lockheed Martin
Primaryuser: United States Air Force
The RQ-170 Sentinel is an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) developed by Lockheed Martin and operated by the United States Air Force (USAF). It has been deployed to Afghanistan as part of Operation Enduring Freedom.
The RQ-170 Sentinel was developed by Lockheed Martin's Skunk Works as a stealth Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV). Journalists have noted design similarities between the RQ-170 and previous stealth and UAV programs such as the RQ-3 DarkStar and Polecat. It is a tail-less flying wing aircraft with pods, presumably for sensors or SATCOMs, built into the upper surface of each wing. Few details of the UAV's characteristics have been released, but estimates of its wingspan range from approximately 65 feet (20m) to between 75 feet (23m) and 90 feet (27m).
The "RQ" designation indicates that the RQ-170 Sentinel does not carry weapons. Aviation Week's David A. Fulghum believes that the UAV is probably a "tactical, operations-oriented platform and not a strategic intelligence-gathering design".
The USAF confirmed the "grainy photos of a gray, flying-wing-typed unmanned airplane near Kandahar Airfield" Since then, this has been known as "The Beast of Kandahar." in relation to the discussion of the RQ-170 Sentinel on 4 December 2009. A USAF colonel subsequently commented that RQ-170 is separate from the MQ-X program, which has yet to determine stealth or powerplant requirements, and thus the Sentinel will not replace the MQ-1 Predator and MQ-9 Reaper drones currently in service. As of May 2011, the US Military had not released any statements concerning the Sentinel since December 2009.
The RQ-170 has a flying wing design containing a single (as yet unknown) engine and is estimated by Aviation Week as being approximately 66 feet in wingspan. Its takeoff weight is estimated as being greater than the RQ-3 DarkStar's, which was 8,500 pounds. The design lacks several elements common to stealth engineering, namely notched landing gear doors and sharp leading edges. It has a curved wing planform, and the exhaust is not shielded by the wing. Aviation Week postulates that these elements suggest the designers have avoided 'highly sensitive technologies' due to the near certainty of eventual operational loss inherent with a single engine design and a desire to avoid the risk of compromising leading edge technology. The publication also suggests that the medium-grey color implies a mid-altitude ceiling, unlikely to exceed 50,000 feet since a higher ceiling would normally be painted darker for best concealment. The postulated weight and ceiling parameters suggests the possible use of a General Electric TF34 engine or a variant in the airframe.
On the basis of the few publicly-available photographs of the RQ-170, aviation expert Bill Sweetman has assessed that the UAV is equipped with an electro-optical/infrared sensor and possibly an Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar mounted in its belly fairing. He has also speculated that the two fairings over the UAV's wings may house datalinks and that the belly and above wing fairings could be designed for modular payloads, allowing the UAV to be used for strike missions and electronic warfare.
The 30th Reconnaissance Squadron operates RQ-170 Sentinels. This squadron, which is based at Tonopah Test Range Airport in Nevada, was activated on 1 September 2005. RQ-170 Sentinels have been deployed to Afghanistan, where one was sighted at Kandahar International Airport in late 2007. This sighting, and the Sentinel's secret status at the time, led Bill Sweetman to dub it the "Beast of Kandahar". Because the UAV was deployed to Afghanistan, despite the Taliban having no radar, has led to speculation that the aircraft is being used to spy on Pakistan or Iran.
In December 2009, South Korea's JoongAng Daily newspaper reported that the RQ-170 Sentinel had been test-flown in South Korea for the past few months and that it was expected that they would be permanently deployed in 2010 to replace Lockheed U-2 reconnaissance aircraft operating from Osan Air Base. In response to this report, Bill Sweetman argued that the Sentinel's deployments to Afghanistan and South Korea were probably undertaken to monitor Pakistan and North Korea's ballistic missile programs.
In August 2010 it was reported that RQ-170s either had been or were about to be redeployed to Afghanistan and that the UAVs had been fitted with a full motion video capability. The missions performed by these aircraft included flying dozens of high altitude sorties over Pakistan to monitor a compound in the town of Abbottabad where Osama bin Laden was believed to be living. On the night of 1/2 May 2011 at least one RQ-170 monitored the area while elements of the United States Naval Special Warfare Development Group launched an assault on the compound which resulted in bin Laden's death. The aircraft provided footage of the attack which was watched live by President Barack Obama and his senior national security advisors. The RQ-170 also monitored Pakistani military radio transmissions in the area to provide warning of the response to the attack. On 27 May the Los Angeles Times reported that Pakistani officials were "alarmed" by the use of the RQ-170 over their country as the drones are "designed to evade radar and other surveillance systems, and can be used as a spy plane".
There have been a number of reports, which the New York Times describes as "unconfirmed", that RQ-170s have operated over Iran during 2011 to spy on the country's missile and nuclear programs. On 4 December 2011, Iran's semi-official Fars News Agency reported that the Iranian Army's electronic warfare unit had downed an RQ-170 that violated Iranian airspace along its eastern border and captured the lightly damaged wreckage of the UAV. This and subsequent reports did not include any footage to substantiate this claim. The US military released a statement acknowledging that it had lost control of a UAV during the previous week, claiming that it was "flying a mission over western Afghanistan" when control was lost. The statement did not specify the model of the aircraft. The US military also stated that it was still investigating the cause of the loss. On 5 December Fox News reported that US military sources had confirmed to it that the remains of an RQ-170 had been captured by Iranian forces, though the US government had "absolutely no indication" about what caused the loss. The Iranian government has claimed to have shot down American UAVs on several occasions, but has not produced any evidence to support these claims.
United States Air Force
Air Combat Command
432d Air Expeditionary Wing - Creech Air Force Base, Nevada
30th Reconnaissance Squadron - Tonopah Test Range Airport, Nevada
Powerplant: Unknown, possibly General Electric TF34
Service ceiling: 50,000ft (estimated)
Lockheed Martin RQ-170 Sentinel Pictures
More airplane video.