Iranian officials happily announced on Monday that it downed and recovered a US drone as it was performing reconnaissance over Iranian territory. However, US officials have already denied that the drone is theirs and that, even if it were, there’s nothing Iran can do with it. Here’s why.
The drone in question is a $US3.2 million Boeing Scan Eagle ISR unmanned aerial vehicle, which was developed in by the aerospace giant collaboration with Insitu at Phantom Works. The Scan Eagle measures 1.4m long with a wingspan of just over three metres and weighs about 13kg empty. It’s powered by a 1.9HP pusher engine with a two-blade propeller and has a top speed of 75 knots and an operational ceiling of 19,500 feet.
What it lacks in speed, however, it makes up for in endurance. With a full tank of JP5 jet fuel, these drones have a range of 1500km and can remain aloft for over 28 hours — that’s a lot of time to reconnoitre over hostile territory. While it’s up there, the Scan Eagle tracks targets of interest with its nose-mounted, inertial-stabilized camera turret. The drone typically employs either a 3x zoom electro-optic during the day or a mid-wave IR sensor for night missions. They can also be re-purposed to act as battlefield communications relays, chemical sensors or laser designators.
The Scan Eagle is launched with a pneumatic slingshot — known as the Sky Wedge — and recovered by catching a 3m long wire suspended 30 feet off the ground with hooks at the tips of its wings, eliminating the need for airstrips. A highly sensitive Guidestar 111 GPS system not only helps the Eagle snare its landing wire, but also aids in the drone’s navigation and autonomous in-flight route mapping/target tracking functions as well. Up to eight drones can be operated from a remote command station through a 900MHz UHF datalink, and will transmit captured video over a secured 2.4GHz S-band downlink.
Since the Scan Eagle uses off-the-shelf Sony components for its imaging devices and does not actually store any gathered intelligence on-board, the fact that Iran has one doesn’t mean a whole lot. While the Eagle is Boeing’s best selling UAV, sold to eight nations besides the US as well as numerous private companies operating in the Gulf region, US defence officials describe it as the “low end of drone and surveillance technology,” that doesn’t contain any innovative technology or information for Iran to glean.
What’s more, a US Navy spokesman said Tuesday, “the US Navy has fully accounted for all unmanned air vehicles (UAV) operating in the Middle East region. Our operations in the Gulf are confined to internationally recognised water and air space.”
Now, were Iran to uncover the drone’s serial number, which was obscured in the video Iran released, naval officials would be able to determine where exactly it came from. Though not even the Scan Eagle itself has the necessary endurance to wait for that information. [Wikipedia – Wired – NBC News – Insitu – Navel-Technology – Defense-Update – ]