Downed US Drone Yields Wealth of Intelligence and More

Rixon Stewart – December 13, 2011

Even as the U.S. sought to play down the significance of its loss, Iran claimed its scientists were in the process of recovering top-secret data from the downed U.S. surveillance drone. But the downed drone may yield something even more valuable for Iran.
The Revolutionary Guards claim to have taken control of the RQ-170 Sentinel drone while it was on a reconnaissance flight over eastern Iran last Thursday; countermanding its controllers flight commands and overriding internal security programming.
Apart from the potential loss of vital software, U.S. officials are reportedly concerned that Iranian scientists may be able to duplicate the RQ-170’s radar deflecting paint; in addition to gaining insights into the sophisticated optical technology onboard, which enable terror suspects to be identified from tens of thousands of feet in the air.
Tehran hailed the drone’s capture as a victory in its battle with the U.S. over scientific and technological expertise that has seen several Iranian scientists assassinated.
Meanwhile a U.S. public policy think tank with a strong focus on defence has described the loss of the RQ-170 as a “major blow to U.S. security”.
“There is the risk of compromise to a host of very sensitive intelligence capabilities possibly including hyperspectral imaging systems, specialized listening devices, nuclear particle ‘sniffers’ and communications encryption devices,” said David Goure, Vice President with the Lexington Institute.
Dismissing U.S. claims that the drone had malfunctioned, Goure continued:
“Long-range UAVs are programmed to return to base if contact is lost with their controllers … They are not supposed to fly around aimlessly or simply land. A platform as sensitive as the RQ-170 would have had such a ‘carrier pigeon’ program in its guidance computer and, under normal conditions, would have flown home.”
The fact that it didn’t obviously adds credence to Iranian claims over the drone’s seizure. 
Parviz Sorouri, the head of Iran’s parliamentary national security committee, said on Monday that Iranian experts would “reverse-engineer the aircraft” with the aim of mass-producing a superior vehicle.
Sorouri added that information extracted from the RQ-170 would also be used to file a lawsuit against the United States for the “invasion” of its airspace.
Regardless of whether the case goes to court however, the loss the RQ-170 has dealt a severe blow not only to U.S. prestige but also to its intelligence gathering capabilities.
And that could prove to be the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back.
For beyond delivering a telling blow to U.S. standing in the region the downed drone has also bought Iran some vital time. Although we cannot be certain about the specific aim of the RQ-170’s mission, we can be sure that it was part of a broad array of missions aimed at gaining a wider picture of the disposition of Iran’s defence forces, their state of readiness, equipment and capabilities etc.
All of which would be vital in planning sweeping coordinated military strikes against Iran.
The fact that Iran has put an end to one intelligence-gathering mission will make the others more hazardous and the overall picture obtained less than complete. Meaning that when the strikes do ultimately go in, and they will, casualties may be higher than anticipated.
Iran may have bought itself no more than a few weeks but time is of the essence here. Given that the optimum conditions for air strikes will only commence when winter clouds over Iran lift next spring – exactly when Iran’s version of the “game-changing” S-300 air defence system, the Bavar 373 is scheduled to be unveiled and thereafter deployed.
Iran is growing more potent almost by the month. At some point it will become too formidable for the U.S. and Israel to deal with and although we haven’t reached that point quite yet, the door is closing.
So timing is vital and a few weeks either way could be absolutely critical.
The mullahs must be praising Allah for the downed RQ-170 for it may yet prove to be a gift beyond price.