Words of Advice:

"We have it totally under control. It's one person coming from China. It's going to be just fine." -- Donald Trump, 1/22/2020

“We will not see diseases like the coronavirus come here..and isn't it refreshing when contrasting it with the awful presidency of President Obama."
-- Trump Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany, 2/25/20

"I don't take responsibility for anything." --Donald Trump, 3/13/20

"If Something Seems To Be Too Good To Be True, It's Best To Shoot It, Just In Case." -- Fiona Glenanne

"Flying the Airplane is More Important than Radioing Your Plight to a Person on the Ground Who is Incapable of Understanding or Doing Anything About It." -- Unknown

"There seems to be almost no problem that Congress cannot, by diligent efforts and careful legislative drafting, make ten times worse." -- Me

"What the hell is an `Aluminum Falcon'?" -- Emperor Palpatine

"Eck!" -- George the Cat

Thursday, December 8, 2011


You've probably heard by now that a RQ-170 drone was lost over Iran and that the Iranians recovered the wreckage. What caught my eye, though, was this quote in the NY Times:
Dennis M. Gormley, a missile and drone expert at the University of Pittsburgh, said reverse-engineering the aircraft itself would be difficult even for a sophisticated military. “Unless somebody put the engineering drawings in the U.A.V.,” he said, using the abbreviation for unmanned aerial vehicle, “it won’t be easy. In any complex piece of aviation equipment, you have to replicate the tolerances precisely.”
Let me offer, if you will, Exhibit A: The Tupolev-4, NATO codename: "Bull"

If it looks familiar, it should:

After three B-29s landed on Soviet soil during the war, Tupolev produced a damn near exact copy of the B-29. The one real problem Tupolev had was that due to the differences between the English and metric systems, Tupolev had to use slightly thicker aluminum and larger rivets. The Tu-4 was reportedly had an empty weight that was over a ton heavier than a similar B-29.

Copying is possible. But more likely is detailed analysis and copying of the sensors and passive anti-radar characteristics of the skin.

What isn't being discussed is the effect that the drone crash will have on the push by the U.S. and U.K. for increased sanctions on Iran to punish them for their pursuit of nuclear weapons. The Iranians now have a nice bargaining chip to help persuade the Russians and the Chinese to push back against more sanctions.


bob said...

Once Stalin gave the order to reproduce the B-29, it took slight over two years (22 June 1945 to 19 August 1947) for a significant portion of the Soviet aircraft industry lead by Tupolev to produce the Tu-4 and fly the vehicle in a public display. The VVS did not consider the system operational until mid 1949, given the set of operational issues that they had to solve.

From the very start the RQ-170 program knew that the vehicles would be operating over hostile territory, and therefore other than the low observable configuration, the sensor systems and avionics were to be off the self systems. Advanced material (RAM) were to be kept off the airframes.

The fact that it operated for 2 years without a reported operational loss is quite remarkable. In someways it is a modern version of the AQM-34/M (Buffalo Hunter).

We lost a few of these vehicle since we did not want risk human based systems in that particularly lethal combat environment.

Other parties will be able to reproduce with enough time and money the RQ-170 vehicle, since the vehicle is nothing more than a sensor platform, they will end up with just the vehicle, the real secret sauce of the system is setting back at Nellis.

Cujo359 said...

If any sensitive software on the plane is on encrypted media, I suspect it will be very difficult and time consuming to get anything from those boxes. Even programmable logic can be set up to be unreadable, though I suspect someone with an electron microscope and some patience could get past that one.

It's possible that their engineers would gain an insight or two by examining that UAV, but that's about all I think is likely to happen anytime soon.

bob's right, the military is used to the idea of its systems being captured.

Nothing's impossible to duplicate, particularly with the resources of a large country behind you, but I think that it would probably be no more trouble for Iran to develop their own UAVs independently.

bob said...

Did anyone notice in the Raw Video of the RQ-170, that the underside of the vehicle is draped in such a manner as preclude the determination of underside and undercarriage damage. (Did they really land it or did it just crash because it ran out of fuel, fail to self destruct, and ended up in a neutral trim condition, and just phogoid in to the ground.)

Other than the blended body sections most of the "Advance Technology" associated with this airframe is circa "Have Blue" late 1970's even down to color scheme. Engine inlet technology is certainly Have Blue/F-117.

If the stated operational date of 2007 is accurate, This maybe the date that it became operational for the USAF, for the CIA it was probably several years earlier, they are not quite so picky on having all of the bugs worked out before they will start to use a system U-2, A-12. This make the age of the operational hardware circa 1990, Intel 286, 386/387, 486

This system started it development in the early 1990. The long development time is a curse and blessing in weapon systems, you never really have the latest and greatest actually in the field to get captured.