The Los Angeles Times reports:
A drone that Iranian officials claimed to have shot down may be an unarmed U.S. reconnaissance aircraft that went missing over western Afghanistan late last week, according to U.S.-led forces in that country.
“The operators of the UAV [unmanned aerial vehicle] lost control of the aircraft and had been working to determine its status,” NATO’s International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan said in a statement.
Iranian media reported Sunday that the country’s armed forces had shot down a U.S. drone that they said violated Iranian airspace along the eastern border. Iran borders Afghanistan and Pakistan in the east.
An Iranian military official quoted by the official Islamic Republic News Agency said the aircraft suffered minor damage and was in the possession of the armed forces. He identified the aircraft as an “RQ170” type drone and said Iranian forces were “fully ready to counter any aggression.”
When the existence of the RQ-170 first entered the public domain after it was photographed in Afghanistan, it quickly got dubbed the “Beast of Kandahar.”
As a highly classified stealth aircraft the question was: why would the US be flying a drone designed to evade radar when the Taliban have no radar? Speculation suggested that its areas of operation were more likely over Pakistan and perhaps spying on nuclear facilities in Iran.
In May this year the Washington Post reported that this aircraft had indeed been used to “fly dozens of secret missions deep into Pakistani airspace and monitor the compound where Osama bin Laden was killed.”
So how did the operators manage to lose such valuable piece of equipment last week? Someone fell asleep at the wheel? Very unlikely during such a critical intelligence operation. A technical malfunction? Maybe, but in such an event it would seem more likely that the aircraft would have crashed and been destroyed.
Another possibility is that “lost control” is another way of saying hijacked. In other words, U.S. remote pilots lost control as Iranians took control.
There maybe a connection with another drone story — this one about a drone that Israel lost.
Late last month, Richard Silverstein “revealed” that an Israeli drone brought down over Southern Lebanon by Hezbollah had been booby-trapped and later unwittingly taken to a weapons depot where it was remotely detonated. It was a story so implausible that it seemed like Israeli intelligence could only feed it to a scoop-hungry blogger since most journalists simply wouldn’t take it seriously.
If the story was indeed an Israeli fabrication then it was probably concocted in order to cover up a much more important story: that Hezbollah has managed to refine its tools of electronic warfare to a point that puts in jeopardy all of Israel’s drone missions over Lebanon.
If that was the case this would have serious consequences since it is widely assumed that in the event of an Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities, reprisal attacks on Israel from Lebanon would swiftly follow. In such a situation, Israel could not afford to have lost one of its most valuable intelligence gathering tools — the means on which it might depend to prevent missile strikes on Tel Aviv.
In other words, if Israel’s ability to defend itself from attacks from Lebanon has been significantly degraded, it might need to be a bit more cautious about threatening to attack Iran.
Israel is flying less sophisticated drones than the RQ-170, but even so, whatever skills Hezbollah has been acquiring in its counter-drone operations it has very likely been sharing with Iran’s Revolutionary Guard.
Might this provide part of the explanation about how the U.S. lost and Iran found a drone that supposedly went “missing”?