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North America Military News From United States, Canada & Mexico.

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Old 12-07-2009, 12:16 PM
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Default RQ-170 Sentinel: "Beast of Kandahar"

David Fulghum and Bill Sweetman/Washington

The secret is out. The U.S. Air Force has confirmed the existence of the “Beast of Kandahar” UAV that was seen flying out of Afghanistan in late 2007. The jet aircraft – a tailless flying wing with sensor pods faired into the upper surface of each wing – is the RQ-170 Sentinel, developed by Lockheed Martin’s Skunk Works. An Air Force official revealed to Aviation Week Friday afternoon that the service is “developing a stealthy unmanned aircraft system (UAS) to provide reconnaissance and surveillance support to forward deployed combat forces.”

The USAF statement came after discussion of the UAV emerged here on Ares.
“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 Air Force Chief of Staff General Norton Schwartz’s vision for an increased USAF reliance on unmanned aircraft,” according to the statement.

The RQ-170 is flown by the 30th Reconnaissance Squadron at Tonopah Test Range, Nev. – home of the F-117 stealth fighter when the program’s existence was secret – and falls under Air Combat Command's 432d Wing at Creech Air Force Base, Nev. In Kandahar, the Sentinel was seen operating out of General Atomics Aeronautical Systems’ hangar.

The 30th RS was activated as part of the 57th Operations Group on Sept. 1, 2005, and a squadron patch was approved July 17, 2007. The activation – although not the full meaning of the event was noted among those who watch for signs of activity in the classified world.

The RQ-170 designation is similar to that of the F-117 – a correct prefix, but out of sequence to avoid obvious guesses of a program’s existence. Technically, the RQ designation denotes an unarmed aircraft rather than the MQ prefix applied to the armed Predator and Reaper UAVs. The USAF phrase, “Support to forward deployed combat forces,” when combined with visible details that suggest a moderate degree of stealth (including a blunt leading edge, simple nozzle and overwing sensor pods) suggests that the Sentinel is a tactical, operations-oriented platform and not a strategic intelligence-gathering design.


Many questions remain about the aircraft’s use. If it is a high-altitude aircraft it is painted an unusual color – medium grey overall, like Predator or Reaper, rather then the dark gray or overall black that provides the best concealment at very high altitudes.

The wingspan appears to be about 65-ft., about the same as an MQ-9 Reaper. With only a few images to judge from – all taken from the left side – the impression is of a rather deep, fat centerbody blended into the outer wings.
With its low-observable design, the aircraft could be useful for flying the borders of Iran and peering into China, India and Pakistan for useful data about missile tests and telemetry, as well as gathering signals and multi-spectral intelligence.


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