Update 8:17: USAF Fact Sheet says the 30th RS was re-activated on September 1, 2005.
Update 8:11pm: The USAF identifies the RQ-170 belonging to the 30th Reconnaissance Squadron. I have found an Associated Press story, dated March 22, 2006, that says the 30th squadron was established in August 2005. It’s not clear how long it has operated the RQ-170, but it raises the possibility the fleet is more than 4 years old.
Aviation Week’s David Fulghum and Defense Technology International’s Bill Sweetman report today that the mystery UAV spotted in Kandahar is the RQ-170 Sentinel, an unmanned air vehicle manufactured by the Lockheed Martin Skunk Works. It apparently was part of the ISR Surge initiated by the US Air Force in mid-2008. I’m not sure how that tracks with reports of the aircraft’s presence in Kandahar in 2007. They write:
“Thefielding of the RQ-170 aligns with Secretary of Defense Robert M.Gates’ request for increased intelligence, surveillance andreconnaissance (ISR) support to the Combatant Commanders and Air ForceChief of Staff General Norton Schwartz’s vision for an increased USAFreliance on unmanned aircraft,” according to the statement.
TheRQ-170 is flown by the 30th Reconnaissance Squadron at Tonopah TestRange, Nev. – home of the F-117 stealth fighter when the program’sexistence was secret – and falls under Air Combat Command’s 432d Wingat Creech Air Force Base, Nev. At Kandahar, the Sentinel was seenoperating out of General Atomics Aeronautical Systems’ hangar.