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.
How did the CIAâ€™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.
â€śThis is the jewel for them now,â€ť robotics expert Peter Singer of the Brookings Institution told the Associated Press. â€śIt 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.â€ť
Other experts arenâ€™t so sure.
â€śFrom a secrecy standpoint, itâ€™s like dropping a Ferrari into an ox-cart technology culture,â€ť national security analyst Richard Aboulafia told Air Force Times. â€śBut Iâ€™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.â€ť
The Iranian news site Nasim reported Thursday that Russian and Chinese experts were on their way to Iran to examine the downed drone.
â€śIf indeed Iran shot down an RQ-170Â as it has claimed,Â orÂ one hadÂ crashed while spying on Iranâ€™s nuclear program or conducting other duties over their airspace, it may be a technological loss to America but not to the extent that all of our most sensitive stealth secrets would be totally compromised,â€ť he writes. â€śIn other words, the wreckage would be akin to say (with great speculation) Americaâ€™s early 90â€˛s stealth technology, with a few sensitiveÂ modern subsystems onboard.â€ť
Earlier, analysts had figured that had an RQ-170 been shot down or otherwise crashed, it would have ended up â€śa pile of wreckage,â€ť as one put it.
Given what appears to be a nearly-intact drone in Iranâ€™s hands, however, theyâ€™re now wondering why it didnâ€™t self-destruct or automatically return to base when its ground controllers lost contact, as itâ€™s programmed to do.
â€śEither this was a cyber/electronic warfare attack system that brought the system down or it was a glitch in the command-and-control system,â€ť national security analyst Dan Goure of the Lexington Institute in Arlington, Va.,Â told Air Force Times.
He compares it to the shooting down of the CIAâ€™s high-altitude U-2 spy aircraft over the Soviet Union in 1960.
Loss of the RQ-170 drone is â€śthe biggest Christmas present to our enemies in probably a decade, at least,â€ť Goure said. â€śEverybody now will get an understanding of our state-of-the-art intelligence collection capabilities.â€ť