Iranian military commanders claim that they have hacked deep enough into the RQ-170 Sentinel’s mission computers that they could find out details about not only the aircraft’s prior missions, one of those allegedly being to fly over Osama Bin Laden’s home in Abbottabad two weeks before the historic raid that killed him, but even the aircraft’s command protocols and it’s maintenance history. The chief of the aerospace department of the high-echelon Revolutionary Guards, Gen. Amir Ali Hajizadeh, claims that: “There is almost no part hidden to us in this aircraft” and went into further detail about how Iranian scientists could recount the aircraft’s history of faults and it’s subsequent flights back to it’s manufacturer in California (almost certainly the Lockheed Martin Skunkworks facility in Palmdale California) for repairs, as well as details about other missions it was deployed on out of Afghanistan. A remarkable tale with massive implications to say the least!

This is good news and bad news for the USAF, CIA, and Lockheed Martin, as on one hand if what Mr. Hajizadeh is saying is in fact true, and the aircraft was equipped with an “electronic logbook” and the proposed information is indeed valid and would have been present in the RQ-170’s mission computers, the US would now know generally how severe the loss of sensitive information and technology has been. On the other hand, if what the IRGC claims to have found on the aircraft’s computers is totally inaccurate than those involved with the program in the US will have some cause to belive that their encryption techniques have safeguarded any info on-board, at least up until this point in time. I have to say, I do find it interesting that IRGC is giving out such specific details on their attempts to breach the Sentinel’s systems, such as the exact maintenance and mission history of the airframe, because if they were lying it would be abundantly clear to those in the know. Although it is very possible that what the IRGC claims is true, and it would also shed some light onto this black program’s possibly troubled technological history. Now the big question is were Iranian computer scientists able to crack the Sentinel’s code alone, or did they do so with help from their no doubt very interested Chinese and Russian friends?

The loss of the RQ-170 Sentinel within Iran’s borders, almost totally intact, is the story that keeps on giving. Like ringing a massive brass bell, although the loudest portion of the incident has passed, the repercussions from it will continue to ring on into the foreseeable future…

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  1. M says:

    How likely would it be that there are different levels of security on the software?
    It would also seem to me there would be no need to encrypt maintanence info and not being familar with this type of stuff why would the maintanence info be kept on the UAV computers anyway? Also why would info about past missions still be in the memory, what would be the point?

    To me it sounds like they are using information that is already public and then making up what sounds like plausible information they got from the UAV’s system. They know the US isn’t going to comment one way or the other so they could say what they want.

    • says:

      M- I would say quite likely that there are different levels of encryption on-board. As to the need to encrypt maintenance info, no it is not highly secretive knowledge but the system is very sensitive, especially when you get into problems the aircraft was having and such. Much can be gleaned about a system through the logs of its faults and individual history. The reason why it would be kept onboard is that lots of modern systems use electronic health monitoring systems and logs. These are kinda like your smart phone and your computer, the aircraft syncs with a laptop and tells the maintainers it’s history and what technical faults it is having or literally if it is not feeling well. This improves (supposedly) availability, safety and shortens the logistical chain by collecting long term data on each airframe to identify spares most needed and highlighting needs for fixes and upgrades for the individual airframe and/or the fleet as a whole. Is it smart to have such a system on a secret drone that could be lost over enemy airspace? Probably not. Why not just download the data every flight so the historical database is only on the laptop? Once again, this aircraft is probably made up of already available subsystems and parts so maybe it was just the most straightforward way of designing the aircraft at the time. As for past mission location and date data, not sure on this, sounds more like a mission computer deal or even a “trace” remnant on a navigational subsystem.

      Using public info- How is that so? Are each RQ-170’s logbooks on a public website that I do not know of? They give specific dates for this individual aircraft’s issues and its mission over Bin Laden’s hideout? Sure maybe spotters can see daytime ops of the system coming and going from Kandahar, but not the details of each specific airframe. The only other ways they could have gained this knowledge is through human intelligence, which is highly unlikely, or they hacked into Lockheed or DoD computers to find info on the specific aircraft. China did steal a bunch of documents relating to a black UAV program at Lockheed, maybe this was it, but still, do the timelines line up and it is a bit far reaching no?

  2. Amir says:

    Why on earth they should say something wrong? If they have not get their hand on something they just can be silent. Logically those claims should be backed up by facts

  3. dan says:

    Well, there are other ways to look at this.

    To what extent are the Iranians indulging in disinformation?

    To what extent are the Iranians using this as a means of messaging to the US military-intel-security establishment, that they have derived other bits of info about other clandestine ops that some might prefer were kept quiet?

    To what extent are the Iranians marketing to third parties?

    • says:

      Dan- Exactly. Good call. But on the disinformation side, they US can come right out and say all of this is BS and that the aircraft never flew that Bin Laden mission, or its technical issues and resulting flights back to the manufacturer are totally inaccurate, I have heard nothing of the sort on this as disinformation goes.

      Messaging to US defense sector is very clear here, and the third party marketing comment is very insightful.

  4. Tom says:

    So, we have:

    1. Maybe maintenance records are stored without the protection other data is.
    2. Iranians are attempting a rouse.
    3. Iranians are telling the truth.

    I’d also add:

    4. RQ-170 was a fake: CIA is on a “dis-information” campaign and possibly tracking movement of craft (China/Russia involvement).

    Occam’s Razor says the most likely scenario is #3 (and #1), but I figured I add a little more espionage.

    • says:

      1.) Right, see earlier reply to “M”
      2.) Why? If they were to lie why not give a brief on other less specific but more damning details? They are inviting vulnerability by talking of the aircraft’s unique history (actually the individual airframes!) if they are not telling the truth.
      3.) I really believe they are. They have caused the whole “boy cries wolf” scenario for themselves sadly, but this one I think is true.
      4.) Oh I have heard this theory at great length, probably the majority of emails I get on it and surely most “passionate,” that and it is a reverse engineered UFO that America sent to the Iranians (no kidding, a couple just like that.)

      Occam was a very smart man!


  5. Tom says:

    > it is a reverse engineered UFO that America sent to the Iranians

    I was wondering why stall #102A was empty in the “UFO Hanger” at Wright Patterson AFB when I was visiting this weekend… this explains it!

    • says:

      QUIET TOM! It’s TOP SECRET. Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones will be knocking on your door in no time!

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