20 December 2009

RQ-170 Sentinel Revealed

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What are the fairings on top are for, maybe antennae?
So, I was wrong, when I suggested that there was no reason for the USAF to be flying a stealthy UAV in Afghanistan and that someone was Photoshopping a Burt Rutan project.

I was wrong.

The configuration is interesting, because while it is clearly low observable, the location of the exhaust is fairly conventional, rather than discharging on top of the wing, which implies that, despite it clearly being a LO design, it's not a "LO is the be all and end all of the design" vehicle like the F-117 and B-2 are.

The USAF has now admitted to fielding the RQ-170 Sentinel UAV in Afghanistan as well as the fact that it was developed at Lockheed Martin's Skunkworks.

It appears to have been developed in response to the diplomatic brouhaha that resulted from the interception and forced landing of an EP-3 at the beginning of the Bush Administration.

It should be noted that the RQ designation means that it is unarmed, (paid subscription required) and the linked article also gives a reason for the USAF to deploy a radar evading UAV to Afghanistan:
“Don’t get enamored with current conditions,” [Air Force deputy chief of staff for ISR, Lt. Gen. Dave] Deptula cautions. “We don’t know what the future will bring.” While operations in Afghanistan will be “more complex than ever,” the future is “not only going to be about irregular warfare.”

Beyond 2011, the Air Force’s first priority and the destination of the next dollar to be spent “if I were king for a day,” Deptula says, “would be for long-range [reconnaissance and] precision strike. That’s the number-one need.
The “black” Sentinel was seen in 2007 at Kandahar, Afghanistan. Two photographs surfaced this year via the Secret Defense Blog.

“We cannot move into a future without a platform that allows [us] to project power long distances and to meet advanced threats in a fashion that gives us an advantage that no other nation has,” he notes. “We can’t walk away from that capability.
It's all about the Benjamins. The USAF is deploying this to Afghanistan because they think that it will help them in their budget fights against other services.


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