The RQ-170 Sentinel is an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) developed by Lockheed Martin and operated by the United States Air Force(USAF) for the Central Intelligence Agency. While the USAF has released few details on the UAV's design or capabilities, defense analysts believe that it is a stealth aircraft fitted with reconnaissance equipment.
RQ-170s have been reported as having operated in Afghanistan as part of Operation Enduring Freedom. It has been confirmed that the UAVs have operated over Pakistan and Iran; operations over Pakistan included sorties which collected intelligence before and during the operation which led to the death of Osama bin Laden in May 2011.
In December 2011, Iranian armed forces claimed they captured an RQ-170 flying over their country. The U.S. military has acknowledged losing an RQ-170 in the region. On 13 December 2011, United States news outlets reported that a formal request for Iran to return the UAV had been issued from the United States to Iran. Iran denied the request and demanded an apology.
|Role||Unmanned aerial vehicle|
|Primary user||United States Air Force|
The RQ-170 is a flying wing design containing a single (as yet classified) engine and is estimated by Aviation Week as being approximately 66 feet (20 m) in wingspan. Its takeoff weight is estimated as being greater than the RQ-3 DarkStar's, which was 8,500 pounds (3,900 kg). The design lacks several elements common to stealth engineering, namely notched landing gear doors and sharp leading edges. It has a curved wing planform, and the exhaust is not shielded by the wing. Aviation Week postulates that these elements suggest the designers have avoided 'highly sensitive technologies' due to the near certainty of eventual operational loss inherent with a single engine design and a desire to avoid the risk of compromising leading edge technology. The publication also suggests that the medium-grey color implies a mid-altitude ceiling, unlikely to exceed 50,000 feet (15,000 m) since a higher ceiling would normally be painted darker for best concealment. The postulated weight and ceiling parameters suggests the possible use of a General Electric TF34 engine, or a variant, in the airframe.
On the basis of the few publicly available photographs of the RQ-170, aviation expert Bill Sweetman has assessed that the UAV is equipped with an electro-optical/infrared sensor and possibly an Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar mounted in its belly fairing. He has also speculated that the two undercarriage fairings over the UAV's wings may house datalinks and that the belly fairing could be designed for modular payloads, allowing the UAV to be used for strike missions and/or electronic warfare. The New York Times has reported that the RQ-170 is "almost certainly" equipped with communications intercept equipment as well as highly sensitive sensors capable of detecting very small amounts of radioactive isotopes and chemicals which may indicate the existence of nuclear weapons facilities.
Following Iranian claims of downing an RQ-170 near the Afghan border in December 2011, Iranian TV showed video footage of what appears to be an advanced unmanned U.S. aircraft that most closely resembles the RQ-170 UAV. In the footage, a member of the Iranian revolutionary guard released dimensions of the aircraft, including a wingspan of about 26 metres (85 ft), a height of 1.84 metres (6.0 ft), and a length of 4.5 metres (15 ft).
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