Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps said on Thursday that the Global Hawk, produced by Northrup Grumman and part of a multi-billion dollar program dating back to 2001, had entered Iran's airspace and it was crushed in Iranian waters; US Central Command confirmed time and general location of the attack, but insists that the drone was flying in the international airspace.
The incident follows another situation last week in which the United States accused Iran of attacking two oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman. The United States also said that Iran had attempted to shoot another drone, a drone MQ-9 Reaper, but failed. The Pentagon also related Iran launched an attack against a Reaper drone in Yemen two weeks ago, which caused the vehicle to fall. Thursday's attack, however, was aimed at a massive and much more expensive surveillance drone, and probably represents a sharper escalation.
"There's a lot going on here, and we're probably only seeing part of it," said Thomas Karako, director of the missile defense project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. "It's a long-range, costlier, higher-performance, higher-altitude intelligence reconnaissance machine." If they shoot down aircraft in the international airspace over international waters, they may incur measured reprisals. "
"There could still be a super secret spy technology on board that we do not know."
Ulrike Franke, European Council on Foreign Relations
Global Hawks are massive surveillance platforms, active since 2001, with a wingspan of more than 130 feet and a maximum take-off weight of more than 16 tonnes, approximately seven containers of cocaine shipment. They have a range of over 12,000 nautical miles, can fly at a staggering 60,000 feet, and can stay in the air for 34 hours. They have no offensive capability. their value lies in their ability to combine range, point of view and persistence with powerful surveillance sensors to monitor ground or sea activity in great detail. According to the Government Accountability Office's analysis, Global Hawks sometimes cost the United States more than 220 million dollars to manufacture and equip.
Global Hawks typically include infrared and thermal imaging, radar imagery and electro-optical imaging in their arsenal of sensors. In addition, their size and impressive weight allow drones to use equipment such as huge lenses for telephoto lenses to get detailed views of targets. But as Ulrike Franke, researcher at the European Council of Foreign Relations and researcher of drones, notes, the US Army customizes different vehicles for different missions, making uncertain the exact material of this Global Hawk. "There could always be a super-secret spy technology on board whose existence we do not know," says Franke.
It is likely, however, that this Global Hawk in particular was a watchdog typical of surveillance, was shot for geopolitical reasons rather than for the specific purpose of technological recognition. It is not known if parts of the drone are even recoverable or if it was destroyed during the attack. Iran captured in a memorable way by the US Sentinel RQ-170 drone in December 2011 and later, claimed to have reversed the vehicle's hardware and software to copy its technology. Sentinel UAVs are thought to use stealth technology for discreet aerial reconnaissance. Last year, Israeli officials said that they had intercepted an Iranian drone it seemed like a "copy" of a Sentinel.
As to whether the Global Hawk was flying over Iranian airspace, let's say that definitive proof would require the United States to release details of the flight path of the drone. "If they want to release that, it's more than a political decision," Karako said. "But until now, CentCom insists that it was in the international airspace."
At present, it is unknown at what altitude the drone was flying when it was shot down, but if it was in its high altitude area, it would have been difficult to catch it. . Still, Franke points out that such an interception is within the limits of Iran's known capabilities.
"One of the selling points is that the Global Hawks fly so high and they should normally be safe from slaughter," says Franke. "It's not incredibly difficult to break down such a system, but it's relatively difficult.
In response, President Donald Trump initially tweeted on Thursday: "Iran has made a very big mistake!" In subsequent commentsI thought to take a less aggressive tone by saying, "I had a hard time believing it was intentional". According to analysts, it is not shocking that Iran has the technology of interception to shoot down the drone; it would have required a radar-guided ground-to-air missile system, apparently from SA-6 or SA-17. SAM given to Iran by Russia. A more flexible, heat-seeking and shoulder-firing missile system could not hit a target at high altitude. In other words, you can not remove Global Hawk unless you really want it.
This story was updated to indicate that the SAM system likely to have shot down the Global Hawk was SA-17. He had originally told SA-7, to the system launched by the shoulder.