Pentagon officials said Monday that one of their stealth drones had indeed gone missing late last week while flying a mission along the lengthy Afghanistan border with Iran. Fox News reported that Iran was claiming over the weekend that they had shot down an American drone and recovered it virtually intact. With military officials confirming that an RQ170 Stealth Sentinel had gone missing, the fear now is that the top secret aircraft might be reverse engineered, replicas built, and those drones used in the future against the United States and/or its allies.
"Iran's military has downed an intruding RQ-170 American drone in eastern Iran," Iran's Arabic-language Al Alam state television network quoted an unnamed source Sunday, according to Al Jazeera.
But until there was official confirmation, media outlets remained skeptical. Iran had claimed to have shot down American drones before, including as recent as July. Although the claims have always been followed by the announcement that the downed crafts would be placed on display, there has yet to be a displayed drone.
There had also never been official confirmation of a missing Stealth drone, either.
Drones are used routinely by the U. S. and NATO to monitor the Pakistan and Iranian borders with Afghanistan. In fact, Fox News reported that the Stealth Sentinel drone was the same type of surveillance aircraft used to oversee and support the bin Laden compound raid in May.
NATO responded to Iran's announcement with the statement: The UAV to which the Iranians are referring may be a US unarmed reconnaissance aircraft that had been flying a mission over western Afghanistan late last week. The operators of the UAV lost control of the aircraft and had been working to determine its status."
Iran claimed three years ago to have built their own drone aircraft, one capable of reaching Israel (often cited by Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad as a target for future aggressive actions), but no evidence has ever surfaced to support the claim. Iran unveiled an armed drone as late as 2009 but western military analysts dismissed it as mere window dressing for the tough rhetoric of Iran's president, according to Time magazine. However, whether or not one had been constructed capable of ranging thousands of miles might now be a moot point in that a state-of-the-art Stealth drone might actually be in the hands of Iranian scientists who could very well reverse engineer the aircraft.
The Pentagon has voiced such concerns.
Despite intense economic sanctions against the Islamic state, the Middle Eastern nation has managed to keep western authorities wary due to a nascent nuclear power capability that could easily be altered into nuclear bomb-making capability. As part of their rocket program, Iran has vowed to send a man into space by 2019, according to FARS News Agency. The fledgling space program has already placed a satellite in orbit and sent animals into space on test flights.
Space and military programs requiring advanced electronic equipment, such as guidance and propellant control systems, might now, through reverse engineering of the RQ170 Stealth Sentinel, allow Iran to do a little catching up to western technology.