AP informs us that a reformist newspaper in Iran has a story on a new course to be taught in high schools in Iran beginning in September:
Iran’s powerful Revolutionary Guards paramilitary units plan to teach drone-hunting to school students, an Iranian newspaper reported Monday.
The report by pro-reform Etemad daily quoted Gen. Ali Fazli, acting commander of the Guard’s Basij militia, as saying the new program will be taught as part of a “Defensive Readiness” lesson in high schools from late September.
And just how would these drones be “hunted”? By hacking them, of course:
He did not elaborate but the plan suggests students would be taught how to track and bring down drone aircraft by hacking their computer systems.
But students could never hack a drone, could they?
I’m calling dibs on the Persian translation of “See something, hack something”.
In the ongoing saga of whether or not Iran hacked our RQ-170 Sentinel drone to down it in December of 2011, Marcy has asked many questions. More recently, Iran announced last December that they had decoded all of the data from that drone and from the less sophisticated ScanEagle they had just claimed to have captured, which prompted more questions on the RQ-170’s mission before it came down. Today, Iran is releasing video and stills that it claims to have come from the decrypted imagery carried on the RQ-170.
Here is PressTV’s description of the video:
Iran has for the first time released decoded video recordings obtained from a US RQ-170 Sentinel stealth drone downed and captured by the Islamic Republic in December 2011.
The recordings have been made by the drone’s underbelly camera, and include views from the area surrounding the Kandahar base as the drone is about to land.
So what kind of camera is in the underbelly of an RQ-170? The website airforce-technology.com has a profile of the RQ-170 that includes these snippets:
Flying at an altitude of 50,000ft, the RQ-170 can offer its operators with real time intelligence data by executing surveillance and reconnaissance operations over a large area.
An electro-optic camera was incorporated beneath the front fuselage section to seize the real time imagery or videos of the battlefield it is surveying.
Okay, then. What are the capabilities of an electro-optic camera? Here is NASA on that question, on a web page that includes a photo of what looks like the nose of a different type of drone:
The Electro-Optic Camera (EOC) System is an experimental sensor under development by the High Altitude Missions Branch at NASA Ames Research Center. The system captures high resolution digitized images from a solid-state array and stores the imagery on magnetic tape. The EOC will acquire imagery along a twelve mile (20 km) swath width at pixel resolution of thirty-two feet (10 m) in three pre-selectable channels of data over a spectral range of 400 to 900 microns. The camera also tilts fore and aft automatically for bi-directional reflectance measurements and will be equipped with a rotating polarizer.
An electro-optic camera can fly at 50,000 feet with a resolution of 32 feet at ground level. And yet, we see this in one of the stills Mehr News put up:
There simply is no way that the video and stills Iran has released have the quality that an electro-optic camera would produce even though Iran claims their images came from the underbelly camera and the available literature says that camera should be an elecro-optic one. I’m no expert in encryption and decryption of images, so unless this low image quality is a strange result of only partial success in the decryption process, I think we have to call bullshit on Iran’s claims here. [It appears they also could use some coaching on the proper spelling of “aerial”.] The only other explanation would be if a second, lower resolution camera also is present as a backup to the electro-optic system, but there is no way this could be the imagery that the US would be collecting for intelligence gathering purposes.
Update: It seems that the New York Times and experts they cite differ with me (as does PJ Evans in comments below) on the authenticity of the imagery released by Iran.
Update 2: This article suggests the latest sensors have much better resolution than the 10 meters at 50,000 feet number quoted above. It cites six inches at 15,000 feet. And with the RQ-170 being a newly developed drone, one would expect it to have the best available imaging.
Iran has published reports in which it claims to have decoded all data carried by the recently captured ScanEagle drone and the RQ-170 Sentinel drone captured last year. As proof of this decoding, Iran provided descriptions of the missions flown by the surveillance drones. The described mission for the ScanEagle fits well with what would be expected for its use, but the description for the RQ-170 conflicts with widely published accounts in the US media.
The decoding of the mission for the ScanEagle was reported last week, just one day after it was captured:
“Yes, we have fully extracted the drone’s data…,” the IRGC Public Relations Department said on Wednesday, referring to the ScanEagle drone — a long-endurance aircraft built by Insitu, a subsidiary of Boeing.
“The drone, in addition to gathering military data, used to pursue gathering data in the field of energy, especially the transfer of oil from Iran’s oil terminals,” the department said.
It said that the capture of the aircraft helps discovery of “what kind of data they (the Americans) are after.”
This report for the ScanEagle fits well with what we were told about the use of ScanEagles in the region when Iran first made the claim of capturing this drone. However, the report today on decoding data from the RQ-170 Sentinel drone captured last year is more confusing: Continue reading
Iran is claiming once again to have captured a US drone. The YouTube above consists of a boring eleven minutes broadcast by PressTV of Iranian military types doing a poor impression of Vanna White running their hands over what is claimed to be a US ScanEagle drone. If true, this would be the second drone captured by Iran in just over a year. Early last December, Iran first claimed to have shot down and then changed their wording to claiming to have “brought” down a much larger RQ-170 Sentinel drone, prompting the question of whether Iran managed to hack the drone.
There has been considerable additional drone action of late regarding Iran, with Iran firing on a Predator drone in November over the Gulf (perhaps in Iranian airspace, perhaps not). Iran then said later in November that they were reporting the US to the UN for violating Iranian airspace at least 8 times during October, presumably with drones.
Interestingly, it appears that Iran is claiming once again to have hacked this drone. From Fars News Agency:
Commander of the Islamic Revolution Guard Corps (IRGC) Navy Rear Admiral Ali Fadavi announced that his forces hunted a US Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) over the Persian Gulf after the drone violated the country’s airspace.
The UAV which had conducted several reconnaissance flights over the Persian Gulf general zone in the past few days was caught and brought under control by air defense units and control systems of the IRGC Navy.
We are now in the denial phase of the US response to this incident. The next bit in the Fars News article sets it up:
The IRGC navy commander announced that the haunted [sic] UAV was a ScanEagle drone, adding that “such drones are usually launched from large warships.”
Seizing on this bit, the US has quickly trotted out a US Navy spokesman to say that all ScanEagles are accounted for and none are missing. This same article also suggests that other countries in the region have ScanEagles and posits that Iran may have salvaged a ScanEagle that went down in the Gulf long ago.
[Heh. I missed the Fars typo saying the drone was “haunted” instead of “hunted” on my first several readings. That puts an entirely different spin on the situation…]
Interstingly, at the end, the AP article does get around to pointing out that the US eventually changed its story on the RQ-170 [and see the update below the fold]: Continue reading