Military sources confirmed that the Iranians have the RQ-170 drone, which is so advanced that the U.S. Air Force has not distributed even a photo of it. However, they did not say that the Iranians shot down the spy plane, as was reported by Iran's official IRNA news agency.
"This is a big prize in terms of technology," a senior U.S. military source told Fox News.
Fars News Agency provided the following details on the capture of the RQ-170:
"An advanced RQ-170 unmanned American spy plane was shot down by Iran's armed forces. It suffered minor damage and is now in possession of Iran's Armed Forces," a military official told FNA on Sunday.
The drone had been downed with help from the Iranian military's electronic warfare unit.
Stephen Trimble at a FlightGlobal blog postulates the capture might be linked to a relatively recent Russian delivery of the Avtobaza ground-based electronic intelligence and jamming system:
Only six weeks ago, Russia announced delivering the Avtobaza ground-based electronic intelligence and jamming system to Iran. Most Russian weapons exports to Iran are blocked, including the proposed transfer of the S-300 surface to air missile system. But there is a key difference between a SAM battery and a jamming system. The S-300 can vastly complicate a strike on an Iranian nuclear site at Natanz or Qoms. A jamming system, such as the Avtobaza, is unlikely to be used to defend such a site because it could interfere with the radar of the S-300 or the Tor-M1 SAM battery.
The Avtobaza, moreover, is designed to jam side-looking and fire control radars on aircraft and manipulate the guidance and control systems of incoming enemy missiles. It would be the perfect tool to target and perhaps infiltrate the communications link that allows a UAV to be controlled from a remote location.
File photo: Lockheed Martin RQ-170 Sentinel unmanned aerial vehicle
File photo: Russian built Avtobaza