Iranian Engineer claims US Drone Downed with RF and GPS Attacks

The Christian Science Monitor released information from an exclusive interview with an Iranian Engineer that claims they hijacked the US RQ-170 Stealth Drone.

According to the report, the Iranians attacked the drone in two stages, first the “Iranian electronic warfare specialists were able to cut off communications links of the American bat-wing RQ-170 Sentinel” and then then the automatic return to base function kicked in on the drone. – “By putting noise [jamming] on the communications, you force the bird into autopilot. This is where the bird loses its brain.

The Iranians allegedly fed it erroneous GPS location information, tricking it to land in Iran:

“The “spoofing” technique that the Iranians used – which took into account precise landing altitudes, as well as latitudinal and longitudinal data – made the drone “land on its own where we wanted it to, without having to crack the remote-control signals and communications” from the US control center, says the engineer.”

The engineer also claimed that the altitude of the landing site was slightly different than the one at the US base causing it to land hard and damage the landing gear.

Could the Iranians have tricked the drone into believing that it was landing at a US base? Could they have intercepted and spoofed military GPS signals?

“Even modern combat-grade GPS [is] very susceptible” to manipulation, says former US Navy electronic warfare specialist Robert Densmore, adding that it is “certainly possible” to recalibrate the GPS on a drone so that it flies on a different course. “I wouldn’t say it’s easy, but the technology is there.”

Okay, I am still not completely convinced that Iran pulled this off. They would have had to know where the stealth drone was going to be, hit it with an RF jammer and then flood it with false GPS signals all the way back to the Iranian base.

Possible? I guess it could be, I still don’t see Iran pulling this off by itself, maybe with Russian technical assistance? The thing still could have crashed from a hardware malfunction as US claims (explaining the damaged undercarriage) and the self-destruct failed to operate.

Apparently the US is working on creating a better military navigational system, two $47 million contracts were awarded in September. But if Iran does has devices that can trick our military GPS, we have some serious problems.

(Thanks go out to Philo for the heads up on this article)

US Drone Displayed in Iran a Fake?

Interesting twist today to the story of Iran recovering a downed US RQ-170 stealth drone. As the battle rages back and forth as whether Iran’s report of it’s cyber army hacking the plane, electronic jamming or hardware malfunction brought the plane down this statement from the New York Times caught my eyes:

“American officials have acknowledged the loss of an RQ-170, a C.I.A. stealth drone made by Lockheed Martin and designed to fly covert missions and collect information in hostile territory, but have declined to confirm or deny that it is the plane that Iran says it recovered.”

They refuse to confirm or deny that the drone being displayed is the one the US is missing… What?

Why would they do that?

Could it be that the drone on display in Iran is a fake? Take a good look at the picture above from the video. Does this look like a $6 million dollar precision stealth drone or a parade float as military hardware expert John Pike at GlobalSecurity.org lovingly describes it:

“…it was highly unlikely the Iranians had the technology to wrest control of the drone’s navigation and bring it down so softly that it was left with barely a scratch.

“It looks like a parade float. For one thing, it looked remarkably intact for something that crashed, and the wings are drooping the wrong way.

“On the real thing, the wings go up at the end. This one’s wings droop down.”

If they are displaying a fake, why would they lie?

I believe to bring a halt to future intelligence gathering missions or possibly a reprieve from the “mystery” explosions that seem to be targeting Iran’s nuclear scientists and weapons specialists.

At best case, it could be a propaganda victory. Why show a mangled and battered drone that has all the electronics on-board destroyed, when you could create a mock up and make the US think they have all the hardware and programming intact?

One thing is for certain. With the CIA being involved in this, we are probably not going to see any more information released from the US side.

If the drone Iran has is legit and intact, the next question is who will end up with it, Russia or China?

Iran Cyber Commandos down US Stealth Drone? – Probably Not

Several news stories are floating around about the alledged downing of a US RQ-170 stealth drone in Iran. According to the Washington Post, Iran claimed that they not only had a largely undamaged state of the art US stealth drone, but that it was taken over and brought down by Iran’s Cyber Warfare unit.

The RQ-170 Sentinel (artists rendition above) is really a pretty interesting aerial platform. Although most of the specs have not been released, the “flying wing” unmanned stealth drone most likely carries a mixture of electronic sensors, communication and video equipment for use in reconnaissance and electronic warfare. At least one was probably used to record images and monitor Pakistani communications during the Navy SEAL’s raid on Osama Bin Laden’s hideout.

I have mentioned before about drones being affected by the IED jammers used on US military ground vehicles, but did Iran’s “cyber army” really bring one down? And could it be tied to the recent malware infection of drone mission support systems at Creech Air Force Base?

Not Likely.

According to the Wall Street Journal, a statement released by NATO’s International Security Assistance Force earlier today states that Iran may be referring to a drone that they lost communication with late last week, that most likely developed a mechanical issue:

“U.S. and NATO officials wouldn’t say what kind of American drone had disappeared, but U.S. officials said there was no indication that the aircraft had been shot down by the Iranians. One American official said the drone likely suffered from a mechanical failure.”

Apparently Iran has claimed to have shot down drones before, but no evidence has ever been brought forth and US has denied that they have lost drones to Iran in the past. So far in this instance, the only “evidence” that Iran has produced is a stock photo of an RQ-170.

Time will tell, but with all the news about mystery explosions in Iran, maybe Stuxnet and its variants aren’t the only active threats to Iran’s nuclear ambitions.