24 April 2012, 14:56

Will Iranian 'Sentinel' ever get off the ground?

Will Iranian 'Sentinel' ever get off the ground?
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Iran is building a copy of the American RQ-170 Sentinel drone which was brought down on an Iranian airfield in December. Its engineers have cracked the code of the drone’s memory and hacked its software.

Iran is building a copy of the American RQ-170 Sentinel drone which was brought down on an Iranian airfield in December. Its engineers have cracked the code of the drone’s memory and hacked its software. Almost all of the data has been deciphered, one of Iran’s high-ranking military officials has declared on TV.

The official also provided some details in what looked like an effort to dispel the CIA’s doubts about it. Before the raid on Bin Laden’s hideout, the drone monitored his house in Pakistan and prior to that it was in California for repairs. The software, technology and materials did not give away their secrets easily but we still did it, the official said.

What the Sentinel’s software actually contained is anyone’s guess but copying technology of this kind is beyond Tehran’s abilities, Director of the Centre for Public and Political Research Vladimir Yevseyev believes.

“The level of technology available to Iran is not sufficient for it to be able to copy this kind of equipment. I do not believe that Iranians could build a copy of the drone, though they could use some of the elements if the drone was in good condition.”

Iranians have enough technology to be able to build their own drones but would not be able to copy an American one, Vladimir Yevseyev explains. As an example, he mentions China where foreign technology has long been copied on a large scale. Some time ago China obtained several Russian X-55 cruise missiles but for a long time the Chinese were unable to copy them. Their equivalent of the Russian X-55 was only produced after they also took advantage of US technologies which they obtained after taking apart the Tomahawk missiles handed over to them by Pakistan.

Professor Sergey Druzhilovsky from the Oriental Studies Department of the Moscow Institute of International Relations agrees that Iran would not have been able to recreate the Sentinel. Also, he does not think that Iranians would have been able to land the drone.

“The drone had run off its course. This was due to a programme error, no one landed the drone deliberately. It was one of the many US drones that regularly monitor Iran’s territory. The US monitors Iran’s nuclear facilities because it distrusts the IAEA and fears that Iran is developing a nuclear bomb.”

The fact that Iranians possess foreign electronic equipment does not prove that they actually took control of the drone, Vladimir Yevseyev says.

“What Iranians could really have done was use radio electronic equipment. Russia had supplied Iran with equipment of this kind. As for Iran’s claims that it landed the drone deliberately, it has unfortunately provided little evidence to support them. We can’t say that they have managed to take over the drone’s controls and landed it.”

Now Russia, China and many other countries can’t wait to get their hands on the Sentinel, the Fars news agency reports. Our guests think that this might be true perhaps. What Russia is interested in is not the drone itself, because it makes similar models, but in its stealth coating. As for China, it could even build a copy of the Sentinel in tandem with Iran. However, such cooperation has slim chances of success. China only wants to get hold of the technology rather than return it to Iran as a finished product, otherwise, it would be accused of violating its international obligations.

Influential independent US Senator Joe Lieberman has called Iran’s announcement ‘bluster’ and a defensive move against the background of the tangible effect of international sanctions.

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