As reported first on Ares and later here, the US Air Force has confirmed the existence of a stealthy unmanned aircraft system called the RQ-170.
Below is the full text of the statement emailed to journalists on Friday evening.
The United States Air Force is developing a stealthyunmanned aircraft system (UAS) to provide reconnaissance and surveillancesupport to forward deployed Combat Forces. The RQ-170 Sentinel, a low observable UAS, was built by LockheedMartin’s Advanced Development Programs (ADP). The fielding of the RQ-170 aligns with Secretary of Defense Robert M.Gates’ request for increased intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance(ISR) support to the Combatant Commanders and AF Chief of Staff General NortonSchwartz’s vision for an increased USAF reliance on unmanned aircraft. The RQ-170 is flown by Air Combat command(ACC), 432d Wing at Creech AFB, NV, 30th Reconnaissance Squadron at
. Tonopah Test Range, NV
Take a good look at the first sentence. Note the use of the term “isdeveloping”. Given the ample photograph evidence of the presumed RQ-170accumulated to date, one might assume the term “has developed” would bemore appropriate. It suggests, of course, the aircraft remains in its developmental stage. Both the RQ-4 Global Hawk and RQ-1 Predator were deployed before they were fully developed, so that’s not a huge surprise.
The statement also leaves a lot of questions unanswered. Why was a stealthy UAS developed and apparently deployed to Afghanistan in secret? What advantage does a steathy UAS provide in a war against an insurgent force lacking a radar-based air defense system? For that matter, can we be absolutely certain that the RQ-170 is the same as the UAV that has appeared in at least three online photos?