Iran captures a US Drone

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http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2011/12/05/us-military-sources-iran-has-missing-us-drone/

Foxnews reported that Iran captured a US drone. I'm not sure how much benefit the Iranians can get from a drone. They might be able to download its firmware/software; I doubt they could understand the code or do anything with it.

The good news is that the drone is demonstrating its original intent: to protect our soldiers from enemy capture. If an American pilot had been captured, it would have been a political and national nightmare. But a drone? :smile: Oh shucks!
 

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  • #2
Pengwuino
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They will send in more drones to rescue it, I'm sure. If not, a few bombs might "get lost" and find their way to wherever they try to take it.
 
  • #3
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how much they get out of it may depend on things like how much commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) technology was used. but at the least, they should be able to figure out what frequencies one might want to jam. if it's encrypted, then it might be difficult to monitor surveillance data from one.

as for the stealth tech, china is known for paying good money to get its hands on such. both in serbia, and the helicopter in pakistan.
 
  • #4
MarcoD
If they did their work right, it's pretty much impossible -without some very advanced tech- to get at the firmware, and jamming is pretty difficult considering that they probably use some spread spectrum technique. I would imagine DOD stuff to be pretty robust.

Then again, maybe the copper lines for downloading the firmware are open on the circuitry, you never know.
 
  • #5
Vanadium 50
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Aren't they afraid a flock of its little drone-y friends might come in looking for it?
 
  • #6
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Aren't they afraid a flock of its little drone-y friends might come in looking for it?
if they had enough sense to put it in a metal box (and i suspect iranians are smart enough to do so), it would be pretty difficult to track.

but probably the radio failed, otherwise you'd think they'd have bombed it before it got too far out of range. otoh, if it's been released into the wild intentionally, then the tech must be nothing special.
 
  • #7
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if they had enough sense to put it in a metal box (and i suspect iranians are smart enough to do so), it would be pretty difficult to track.

but probably the radio failed, otherwise you'd think they'd have bombed it before it got too far out of range. otoh, if it's been released into the wild intentionally, then the tech must be nothing special.
You would think that the DoD thought long and hard about what information would be available from a captured drone. Apparently spread spectrum technology is freely available.

http://parts.digikey.com/1/parts/1573960-ic-clk-gen-spread-spectrum-8soic-ics7152mi-01lf.html

I bet Iran doesn't get any useful information from the drone. I bet the engineers planned for this inevitability. They might have even hidden a computer virus on the drone processor/firmware so that if anyone tried to download its harddrive, the virus attacks. Of course I'm just speculating a little.
 
  • #9
MarcoD
I bet the engineers planned for this inevitability. They might have even hidden a computer virus on the drone processor/firmware so that if anyone tried to download its harddrive, the virus attacks. Of course I'm just speculating a little.
I guess nothing would solve the problem better than a few kilograms of plastic explosives in case the drone loses contact and knows it's going to crash. Not sure they did that, but it would stand to reason.
 
  • #10
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Take a gps and an autopilot and you're almost done building a drone. But its capture also exposes the weakness of UAV's. They are defenseless. They are expendable, because it won't affect the life of a pilot? Maybe, but how many can you expend and can they do their job before they are lost in a bit more hostile environment?
 
  • #11
AlephZero
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I guess nothing would solve the problem better than a few kilograms of plastic explosives in case the drone loses contact and knows it's going to crash. Not sure they did that, but it would stand to reason.
Apparently, they didn't. Or else the plastic explosive also failed.
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-16098562
 
  • #12
MarcoD
Apparently, they didn't. Or else the plastic explosive also failed.
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-16098562
I am not a physicist but is it possible to disable it with an electromagnetic pulse, possibly beamed? That would explain the failure of an hypothetical self-destruct mechanism.

(Personally, I expect the thing just fell from the air because of a short-circuit.)
 
  • #13
Borek
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Designing an EMP resistant detonation mechanism shouldn't be that hard. I could probably build one using my old mechanical clock - just combine it with electronics that doesn't allow explosion as long as it works.

Not that I would like to be close to such a contraption.
 
  • #15
AlephZero
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The report suggests they may have electronically hijacked it and done a controlled landing. In any case, I would guess UAVs are built to survive rough landings, and make a best shot at landing shiny side up with no control inputs and no engine power.

If you are going to crash land, a sandy desert is as good a place to do it as any.
 
  • #16
MarcoD
The report suggests they may have electronically hijacked it and done a controlled landing.
Completely unlikely unless the DoD employs complete engineering idiots, which they don't, or some high-tech was stolen, which is very unlikely too, or an Iranian spy -or someone who developed moral objections- was installed in the control room, which is unlikely too.

I say either a shortage in the circuits, an EMP blast, or an operator who mistakenly thought it was best to land the drone 'safely' for whatever reason. Or just a good old-fashioned US joke on the Iranians.
 
  • #17
Bobbywhy
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The facts behind these drone photos are impossible for the public to know. We can only speculate. The drone looks like it is in perfect condition...not crashed or shot down. As for Marco's suggestion that it may be a "good old-fashioned joke" seems to me quite plausable. The US "loss" may be a trap for the Iranians. Stay tuned.
 
  • #18
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The CNN video said the US had imagery of the downed drone and thought it looked pretty mangled. I bet that one in the video and photos is a mockup.
 
  • #19
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from the vid supplied by the iranians, it looks to me like the right wing is a little droopy, and the left wing has at least one fist-sized dent on the leading edge. maybe it had a wing torn off or something, but it looks pretty good to me.
 
  • #20
MarcoD
I thought about it a bit more. It probably is a 'whatever.' They might get some information about the wing design and stealth coating, and an assessment from the internals to how far US tech is developed. For the rest, it probably is technologically uninteresting since China, for instance, already builds and sells drones itself. It looks to me that it's more a cheap and expandable thing, like giving a toaster away.
 
  • #21
nsaspook
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What they have is a big toy. Any sensitive electronics will have watchdog timers that need the correct signal from the remote air controller device to reset the timed destruction of its internal parts. Anything useful inside has been fried.

Example:
http://www.faqs.org/patents/app/20100132047
 
  • #22
Mech_Engineer
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It looks to me that it's more a cheap and expandable thing, like giving a toaster away.
That's the best part of a drone. If a U-2 had gone down in Iran, they'd have the pilot and be interrogating him right now as a POW (and who knows if he would ever be released). Drones on the other hand are expendable. Although they're pretty expensive, if one crashes you cut your losses and give the pilot a new one.

This isn't much of a loss IMO, assuming of course all of the pertinent electronic technologies had suffieicient self-destructs.

EDIT- As for what's shown in the pictures, it looks like a plaster mockup to me (after all, it's WHITE). I'll bet there is a group of engineers at Lockheed Skunkworks laughing at what a hokey mock-up it is...
 
  • #23
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I think they got a wealth of stealth data, enough to clone the drone. If anyone can, Iran can.
 
  • #24
mheslep
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Take a gps and an autopilot and you're almost done building a drone. ...
Unless it's a stealth drone. One does not buy stealth aeroframes at Radioshack. Also the eye (sensor) is usually extraordinarily capable - EO and IR, on board target track, etc.

But its capture also exposes the weakness of UAV's. They are defenseless.
Perhaps, but this one was reported as failing for mechanical reasons.
 
  • #25
IMHO we are looking at two possible scenarios, The first is that this is a disinformation campaign and the drone is a fake RQ-170, or at least one with certain components removed or altered, that the US intentionally flew it into Iran to send the Iranians on a wild goose chase. The second, and IMO more likely scenario, is that there was some sort of malfunction that caused the drone to fly into Iran.

The only problem I have with the second scenario is that it is a very advanced stealth drone so it's hard to believe that the Iranians could detect it in their airspace, unless they happened to make visual contact. Furthermore even if they had somehow spotted it how are they supposed to have hacked it and make a controlled landing with minimal damage? Their claims to that effect sound like BS.

If the second scenario is the correct one than the concern isn't that the Iranians, and possibly the Chinese, will figure out how to build a slick drone since they already have most of the technology (plus the onboard systems will be outdated within a few years). The real worry is that they will reverse engineer the radar-deflecting paint or engine design, both very closely guarded secrets. However, the stealth chopper that was used in the raid in Abbottabad and shown to the Chinese by Pakistan also had secret radar-deflecting paint. Plus the fact that there was another RQ-170 circling overhead on that operation. I doubt the US would have used technology for that mission, knowing full well that it could fall into enemy hands, if it was deemed too important.

Of course lets not forget that the computer network the Air Force uses to operate the drones was hit with a virus this past year, which opens the door for the possibility that the Chinese, or their own or with the Iranians, gained access to sensitive information which could theoretically enable them to gain control of a stray drone. I realize this sounds a little unlikely which is why I don't lend it much credence but China is leading the charge on cyber warfare so it's plausible that they could have devised a way to hack a drone if they had enough information on its design.
 

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