20 February 2012

More speculation re the downed drone

From The Christian Science Monitor:
Iran guided the CIA's "lost" stealth drone to an intact landing inside hostile territory by exploiting a navigational weakness long-known to the US military, according to an Iranian engineer now working on the captured drone's systems inside Iran... the Iranian specialists then reconfigured the drone's GPS coordinates to make it land in Iran at what the drone thought was its actual home base in Afghanistan... "

The GPS navigation is the weakest point," the Iranian engineer told the Monitor, giving the most detailed description yet published of Iran's "electronic ambush" of the highly classified US drone. "By putting noise [jamming] on the communications, you force the bird into autopilot. This is where the bird loses its brain.".. The techniques were developed from reverse-engineering several less sophisticated American drones captured or shot down in recent years, the engineer says, and by taking advantage of weak, easily manipulated GPS signals, which calculate location and speed from multiple satellites...

US officials skeptical of Iran’s capabilities blame a malfunction, but so far can't explain how Iran acquired the drone intact. One American analyst ridiculed Iran’s capability, telling Defense News that the loss was “like dropping a Ferrari into an ox-cart technology culture.”.. A former senior Iranian official who asked not to be named said: "There are a lot of human resources in Iran.... Iran is not like Pakistan."..

According to a European intelligence source, Iran shocked Western intelligence agencies in a previously unreported incident that took place sometime in the past two years, when it managed to “blind” a CIA spy satellite by “aiming a laser burst quite accurately.”
More at the link, where the curtain around the drone in photos is explained as follows:
"If you look at the location where we made it land and the bird's home base, they both have [almost] the same altitude," says the Iranian engineer. "There was a problem [of a few meters] with the exact altitude so the bird's underbelly was damaged in landing; that's why it was covered in the broadcast footage."


  1. American history (particularly its founding) is one bathed in the glorification of the underdog vanquishing the bully. To this day, the people of the US have extreme difficulty realizing that it has, in fact, become The world bully for quite some time. Part of this is sheer ignorance- the other part, I suspect, the fear that we all know what eventually happens to a bully.

  2. Not to cast doubts on Iran's technical capabilities, but that sounds like a very difficult trick to pull off, for anyone. Supposing they could locate the drone (which is supposed to be stealthy), jamming the GPS signal is not beyond reason either, but the third step seems a bit more complex. Basically they needed to create a whole "virtual reality" for the drone to fall for it. Generating accurate, fake GPS signals that the drone can use in real time is quite a feat.
    But I may be wrong, I'm not an expert on that subject.

    However, as an undergraduate student of aeronautical control systems, it's the explanation for the damaged underside that bothers me.
    This explanation seems to suggest that the drone only used GPS data to land. I really doubt that is the case though, as GPS has nowhere near the accuracy, reliability or availability required for such a task. Aircraft that can land on their own use radio altimeters to determine their altitude with respect to the ground in a landing phase, pretty much regardless of what other sources might indicate (barometric altimeters, and especially not GPS).

    The damage, in my opinion, lends credence to the hypothesis that the drone crash landed due to a technical malfunction.

  3. “like dropping a Ferrari into an ox-cart technology culture.”

    I wonder why Israel is so worried about Iranian scientists that it keeps killing them off left and right then...

  4. My theory is it was intentional by the US to disseminate false information.

  5. I rather doubt the Iranian explaination given here. To do that, they would have to find the drone (which is designed not to be found in the sky), track it (while it is not designed to be tracked) and send out a broadcast signal to create a virtual reality around it while it isn the sky, moving. Extremely, extremely hard to do -- and with a *huge* signature you could detect from hundreds of miles away.

    Moreover, if you look at the videos provided, other than them keeping the bottom of the vehicle curtained off (consistent with a damaged vehicle), the vehicle has several other interesting items. First, the paint job (mustard yellow?) doesn't match anything that would be used on a stealthy drone. There are dozens of color pictures of similar drones from multiple US programs, UK, German, Israeli, Chinese and others. All are painted grey/ white (different on the top and bottom). I suspect the drone landed, potentially burned partially to put scorch marks on the vehilce, and the Iranians painted it to look good.

    Secondly, the wings are no longer symetrical or even level between left and right. THere's a seam which looks like it (no kidding) has been duct taped and painted over on each side of the body. Perhaps, they cut the wings off to transport it -- but its obvious there was some serious something damaging the wings connecting to the body. Also indicative that it didn't land well... And more evidence the story they gave is disinformation.

    Historically, the Iranian military has made muliple claims about new miracle weapons which turn out to be chimeras. There was the Iranian supersonic fighter to challenge the F-22, the faked multiple missile launch picture a couple of years ago, the "flying attack boats", the supersonic torpedo, etc. In such a historical environment, why believe this one about the GPS signal manipulation? Much simpler explanations give the same result, and have more evidence to support it.


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