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How valuable is downed US drone to Iran?

US officials privately confirm that a super-secret RQ-170 drone has fallen into Iran's hands. Now they want to know what brought it down and how valuable is the loss.

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Now that US officials are privately confirming that Iran has a US super-secret RQ-170 drone, two key questions remain:

How did the CIA’s unmanned spy aircraft fall into Iranian hands, especially since photos and videos show it to be largely intact? And how valuable a loss is it?

Pentagon and CIA officials have not publicly acknowledged that the bat-shaped thing shown by Iran is the RQ-170 that went missing earlier this week. But unnamed high-level officials have told several news sources that it appears to be an actual RQ-170.

Meanwhile, analysts differ on the cost of the loss to US intelligence and technology.

“This is the jewel for them now,” robotics expert Peter Singer of the Brookings Institution told the Associated Press. “It depends on what was on the plane on this mission, but one sensor it has carried in the past is an AESA radar. This is a very advanced radar that really is a difference maker for our next generation of planes, not just drones, but also manned ones like F-22s and F-35s.”

Other experts aren’t so sure.

“From a secrecy standpoint, it’s like dropping a Ferrari into an ox-cart technology culture,” national security analyst Richard Aboulafia told Air Force Times. “But I’m sure they can sell it to someone who can get some kind of information out of it. But the mission systems are likely to be too encrypted to be of use to anyone.”

The Iranian news site Nasim reported Thursday that Russian and Chinese experts were on their way to Iran to examine the downed drone.

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