The Islamic Republic of Iran claimed it has fully replicated and reverse-engineered a Lockheed Martin RQ-170 Sentinel unmanned spy plane. The UAV was downed in 2011 while it was surveilling Iran’s nuclear and military sites.
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei, who rarely appears in public, was photographed at the unveiling ceremony to laud Iran’s success.
Iranian state media broadcasted pictures showing the copied RQ-170 drone side by side with the original U.S. model, which was captured in December of 2011. “Our engineers succeeded in breaking the drone’s secrets and copying them. It will soon take a test flight,” an officer claimed.
United States officials confirmed the drone was surveilling Iran’s military and nuclear sites when it was brought down. Following the incident, President Obama politely asked for the drone back. “We’ve asked for it back. We’ll see how the Iranians respond,” Obama said. His wishes were never granted. Many, including former Vice President Dick Cheney, suggested at the time that the U.S. should have destroyed the drone to safeguard American technology.
The White House claimed the drone had been lost due to a technical malfunction. The Iranian government said the drone was brought down after its computer GPS systems were hacked.
In addition, Iranian state media released pictures that supposedly showed Iranian drones flying over a United States aircraft carrier in the Gulf.
Experts have noted that copying the external part of the drone would have been the easy part, but successfully replicating the UAV’s systems would have proven to be a much more difficult task.
“They surely have copied it externally. Now, copying the internal systems is a whole another story,” said David Cenciotti, who runs the blog The Aviationist.
The Lockheed Martin RQ-170 Sentinel operates exclusively for the Central Intelligence Agency and the United States Air Force. Its overall specifications have remained classified.
David A. Fulghum of Aviation Week said:
Technically, “RQ” denotes an unarmed aircraft rather than the MQ prefix applied to the armed Predator and Reaper. A phrase in the memorandum, “support to forward-deployed combat forces,” when combined with visible details that suggest a moderate degree of stealth (including a blunt leading edge, simple nozzle and overwing sensor pods), suggests that the Sentinel is a tactical, operations-oriented platform and not a strategic intelligence-gathering design.