The sharpest minds in unmanned aerial robotics are being hauled out to scrutinize the high-resolution photographs taken by Iranian officials of what they claimed is the American drone that was lost in Iran last Thursday. Though several U.S. officials have confirmed that the military's high-tech RQ-170 Sentine drone was indeed recovered by Iran, not everyone is convinced that the model displayed by Iranian state TV yesterday is an authentic RQ-170. Here's where different experts are siding.
On Thursday, AOL's Defense blog spoke with a former senior Pentagon official "with extensive knowledge of unmanned aerial vehicles" who raised the most serious doubts yet about the drone's authenticity. "Looks like a fake," he told the blog. "Does not look like the condition of an aircraft that lost control. Also wrong color."
The former official, who was not named, wasn't the only one skeptical about the color, such as aviation reporter David Cenciotti who noted that the "desert-like color" was "quite different from the dark grey one of all the previous pictures." Here's a screen grab from NBC News footage showing a grayish RQ-170 (though not specifically the one lost in Iran) before last week's debacle:
Another problem AOL's expert cited was what's not shown in the photos. "They are not showing the landing gear or bottom of the aircraft." But others say that could be explained away by the crash landing. Cenciotti, who is of the opinion that the images are likely genuine, says the drone could have "crash landed on its belly, without extracting the landing gear, or maybe because the undercarriage collapsed due to hard landing." The scratch that appears in the top photo of the plane (circled in red) appear to show damage to the drone.
The final problem AOL's expert cites is the welds on the wings. "The welds on the wing joints are hardly stealthy," the official says. "In order to avoid setting off radar, welds on stealthy aircraft must be very close to the surface of the structure and extremely smooth."