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Old 12-09-2009, 07:53 AM
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Default US Air Force confirms 'Beast of Kandahar' drone

WASHINGTON (AFP) – The US Air Force on Tuesday confirmed for the first time that it is flying a stealth unmanned aircraft known as the "Beast of Kandahar," a drone spotted in photos and shrouded in secrecy.

The RQ-170 Sentinel is being developed by Lockheed Martin and is designed "to provide reconnaissance and surveillance support to forward deployed combat forces," the air force said in a brief statement.

The "RQ" prefix for the aircraft indicates an unarmed drone, unlike the "MQ" designation used for Predator and Reaper aircraft equipped with missiles and precision-guided bombs.

Aviation experts dubbed the drone the "Beast of Kandahar" after photographs emerged earlier this year showing the mysterious aircraft in southern Afghanistan in 2007.

The image suggested a drone with a radar-evading stealth-like design, resembling a smaller version of a B-2 bomber.

A blog in the French newspaper Liberation published another photo this week, feeding speculation among aviation watchers about the classified drone.

The air force said the aircraft came out of Lockheed Martin's "Skunk Works," also known as Advanced Development Programs, in California -- the home of sophisticated and often secret defense projects including the U-2 spy plane, the F-22 fighter jet and the F-117 Nighthawk.

The photo of the drone in Afghanistan has raised questions about why the United States would be operating a stealth unmanned aircraft in a country where insurgents have no radar systems, prompting speculation Washington was using the drones for possible spying missions in neighboring Iran or Pakistan.

The Sentinel was believed to have a flying wing design with no tail and with sensors built into the top side of each wing, according to published photos.

The RQ-170 is in line with Defense Secretary Robert Gates' request for more intelligence and surveillance resources and with the Air Force chief of staff's plans to expand the fleet of unmanned aircraft, the air force said.

The new drone is flown by the 30th Reconnaissance Squadron out of Tonopah Test Range in Nevada, which is under Air Combat Command's 432nd Wing at Creech Air Base, also in Nevada.

The United States has carried out an extensive bombing campaign against Al-Qaeda figures in Pakistan using the Predator and larger Reaper drones.

Robots or "unmanned systems" in the air and on the ground are now deployed by the thousands in Iraq and Afghanistan, spying from the sky for hours on end, searching for booby-traps and firing lethal missiles without putting US soldiers at risk.
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Old 12-09-2009, 08:07 AM
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Aviation Week



The U.S. Air Force has confirmed to Aviation Week the existence of the so-called "Beast of Kandahar" UAV, a stealth-like remotely piloted jet seen flying out of Afghanistan in late 2007.


The RQ-170 Sentinel, believed to be a tailless flying wing design with sensor pods faired into the upper surface of each wing, was developed by Lockheed Martin's Advanced Development Programs (ADP), better known as Skunk Works. An Air Force official revealed Dec. 4 that the service is "developing a stealthy unmanned aircraft system (UAS) to provide reconnaissance and surveillance support to forward deployed combat forces."

The UAV had been discussed on the Ares technology blog, as well as elsewhere online, but the USAF statement to Aviation Week was the first to detail the aircraft.
"The fielding of the RQ-170 aligns with Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates' request for increased intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) support to the combatant commanders and Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz's vision for an increased USAF reliance on unmanned aircraft," says the emailed statement.

The RQ-170 is flown by the 30th Reconnaissance Squadron at Tonopah Test Range, Nev. - home of the F-117 stealth fighter when the program's existence was secret - and falls under Air Combat Command's 432d Wing at Creech Air Force Base, Nev. At Kandahar, the Sentinel was seen operating out of General Atomics Aeronautical Systems' hangar.

The 30th RS was activated as part of the 57th Operations Group on Sept. 1, 2005, and a squadron patch was approved July 17, 2007. The activation - although not the full meaning of the event - was noted among those who watch for signs of activity in the classified world.

The RQ-170 designation is similar to that of the F-117 - a correct prefix, but out of sequence to avoid obvious guesses of a program's existence. Technically, the RQ designation denotes an unarmed aircraft rather than the MQ prefix applied to the armed Predator and Reaper UAVs. The USAF phrase, "Support to forward deployed combat forces," when combined with observed details, suggest a moderate degree of stealth (including a blunt leading edge, simple nozzle and overwing sensor pods) and that the Sentinel is a tactical, operations-oriented platform and not a strategic intelligence-gathering design.

Many questions remain about the aircraft's use. If it is a high-altitude aircraft it is painted an unusual color - medium grey overall, like Predator or Reaper, rather then the dark gray or overall black that provides the best concealment at very high altitudes. The wingspan appears to be about 65-ft., about the same as an MQ-9 Reaper. With only a few Internet images to judge from - all taken from the left side - the impression is of a deep, fat centerbody blended into the outer wings.

With its low-observable design, the aircraft might be useful for flying the borders of Iran and peering into China, India and Pakistan for useful data about missile tests, telemetry as well as gathering signals and multi-spectral intelligence.

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Old 12-09-2009, 08:09 AM
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Default Mysteries Surround Afghanistan’s Stealth Drone

Mysteries Surround Afghanistan’s Stealth Drone

Wired


Earlier this year, blurry pictures were released by the French magazine Air & Cosmos of a previously unknown stealth drone taken at Kandahar in Afghanistan. The photos, snapped in 2007, prompted a wave of speculation about the classified aircraft. That speculation grew even more intense this week, when a blog belonging to the French newspaper Libération released an even better photograph. But while the new picture may answers some questions, it also creates a heap of new mysteries. Chief among them: Why use such a fancy, stealthy aircraft in Afghanistan? The Taliban have neither the radar to spot the plane, nor the weaponry to shoot it down.

The lines of the drone clearly indicate a stealth design slightly reminiscent of the B-2A Spirit bomber, but smaller. Over on Ares, veteran aviation expert Bill Sweetman describes the wingspan as being perhaps eighty feet, and notes “One important detail: the overwing fairings are not B-2-like inlets, but cover some kind of equipment - satcoms on one side, perhaps, and a sensor on the other.”

The aircraft, which Bill has dubbed the Beast of Kandahar, is widely believed to be a product of Lockheed’s celebrated Skunk Works, home of the F-117 Nighthawk stealth fighter. The Beast bears some resemblance to the Skunk Works’ Polecat drone, revealed in 2006. This was a private venture, costing some $27 million of Lockheed’s own money, designed to operate stealthily at high altitude and at supersonic speed. However, the Beast is not Polecat, as one look at the exhaust will indicate.

The Beast has also been identified with the covert Desert Prowler program, identified by black ops spotter Trevor Paglen. The Desert Prowler’s patches include the phrases “alone and unafraid” and “alone and on the prowl” as well as the figure of a wraith taken from an album cover by Insane Clown Posse. The wraith is said to represent the Grim Reaper…peculiar as it may seem, Paglen has shown that a remarkable amount of information can be gleaned from Black Ops patches and has written a book on the subject.

Meanwhile, there is considerable speculation on the Secret Projects Forum about technical aspects of the Beast, including attempts to calculate its exact size. The landing gear may have been borrowed from another aircraft, a common practice in drone circles to keep costs down. If the gear could be identified, it might say a lot about the size and weight of the Beast.

However, having established that there really is a stealthy U.S. drone operating out of Kandahar, the big question is what is it doing there? The Taliban do not have radar, so why deploy an expensive, stealthy done when conventional models like the Predator and Reaper work so well? And what’s the point of having a high-level, strategic craft in that theater?

There has of course been plenty of speculation. Much of it is focused on the idea that while it is based in Kandahar, the Beast may be carrying out missions outside of Afghanistan, with Iran and Pakistan both being possible candidates. For both of those radar stealth could be an important asset, and the beast may be carrying out signals-intercept or other tasks (looking for traces of nuclear material?).

This might make more sense than local operations: why risk an expensive, scarce black drone and run the chance of it being uncovered if you can do the job with other aircraft. On the other hand, if the Beast is a top-secret craft on a top-secret mission, why leave it out where it can be photographed?

One note of caution: the provenance of the photograph is not known, and it was published “without guarantee of origin.” So it might be some deliberate disinformation to put black plane-spotters off the scent of the real Beast.
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Old 12-10-2009, 09:47 AM
eriksale eriksale is offline
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David

Sent your info to my roommate from college who has "first hand" knowledge with drones. His reply may be of interest to all.

Dave

"Well... I came home in April 2006, and we never had anything like what you
see in the photo - strictly MQ-1s (Predators) and MQ-9 Reapers here and
there. By 2007 there were 1s and 9s at Kandahar. The Army in Iraq at the
time was just fielding the MQ-1C Warrior as well.

However, why would they put any sort of secret aircraft there? If it went
down and the bad guys got hold of the wreckage that would be an unacceptable
risk. If they collect a 1 or a 9, no big deal. It is all off-the-shelf
stuff. But this thing? I can't believe the military or the company would
risk it.

I think this is a hoax. They say it came out of the GA area, but it is
certainly not built by General Atomics - Aeronautical Systems Inc. GA-ASI's
"stealthy" drone is the Predator C (you can read about it on their website
or a good article here -
http://www.theregister.co.uk/2009/04...or_c_unveiled/).

The one thing I notice in the photo is that it appears to be unpainted and
made out of metal, and is VERY small - note the taxiway lights in the
background. I would say that this aircraft is no more than about 15 feet
long, if that. The military has no need of this size drone - it already has
the Predator, Warrior, and Reaper.

The other thing about the size is that this aircraft would have a teeny
weeny bomb bay - meaning nothing I can think of in the inventory would fit!
The article says it is an RQ and the US isn't going to build any more RQs
except little ones for troops in the field. Anything they build this size
and bigger is going to be an MQ.

Maybe a really old photo of a model of a B-2 prototype? The landing gear is
way over built for something that size and apparent weight, and almost
identical to the B-2's gear door arrangement."
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