Did Iran Really Hack the RQ-170s Maintenance Records?

Happy Monday,

Our old friend the RQ-170 is back in the news again. Yup, Iran claims it has already reverse engineered parts of the jet and it’s encrypted software and it plans to make its own version of Lockheed Martin’s stealthy little drone.

To prove it, the Iranians have said that the data they hacked allowed them to verify that the drone that went down in Iran last December was the same aircraft that was used to spy on Osama bin Laden before the American special operations raid that killed him last year. Tehran also claims that the jet has had some maintenance issues in the year before it crashed. An Iranian Revolutionary Guards general even listed off dates that the jet was shipped to California to have repairs made.

From AP.

He also listed tests and maintenance that the drone had undergone, all of which, he said, had been recorded in the aircraft’s memory. According to Hajizadeh, the drone was taken to California on Oct. 16, 2010, for “technical work” and then to Kandahar, Afghanistan, on Nov. 18, 2010.

He said it carried out flights from Afghanistan but ran into some problems that U.S. experts were unable to fix. Then the drone was taken in December 2010 to Los Angeles, where the aircraft’s sensors underwent testing, Hajizadeh said.

“If we had not achieved access to software and hardware of this aircraft, we would be unable to get these details. Our experts are fully dominant over sections and programs of this plane,” he said.

  • Vaporhead

    Sounds mostly like propoganda, but any “maintenance” information on this bird is properly unencypted and useless.

    • blight_

      True, but admitting to any of the maint implicitly admits that Iran does have the bird. However, stuff like maint records wouldn’t be in an armored black box; suggesting that the bird had to have come down in a fairly controllable fashion?

    • Bill

      The greatest damage has already been done and that is Russia and/or China offering to take it off Iran’s hands. Iran may not be capable in doing material analysis, but Russia and China are.

      Meh, stealth is old-hat as far as tech countries go anyhow.

    • joe

      Or that, y’know, there’s an installation date on the serial number stamp of some of the components?

      Looking at the computer in front of me, I can, for example, see a “tested for electrical safety date” sticker.

  • Vaporhead


  • iNevi

    What are the chances that China or even Russia did all the legwork on the access to the drone and then just offered up some minor details to the Iranians? Hmm.

    • Nadnerbus

      So maybe China and Russia are more “fully dominant over sections and programs of this plane” than the Iranians.

      I wish our talking heads said fun stuff like that. Might just be a translation artifact though, I guess.

    • justsaying

      Iran is not some backwater banana republic that can be overthrown with ease, unfortunate for the Americans. They have a very developed tech and military sector.

    • See the report we published in real time with regards to the downing of this drone:
      RQ-170: anatomy of a failed cybernetic society : http://essential-intelligence-network.blogspot.co

  • Nvictus

    I have the following maintenance log information from my car:

    4/2012 – Oil change
    1/2012 – Oil change, brakes checked
    9/2012 – Oil change, antifreeze added

    I can now reverse engineer my car!

  • maybe it was on a sticker inside the drone?

  • dddd

    There was a very interesting quote from an anonymous official in a recent NYTimes (I believe) article on our intelligence capabilities vis-a-vis Iran’s, in which he said that technicians and policymakers had debated installing a “self-destruct” package in the RQ, only to conclude that it would make the delicately balanced aircraft impossible to fly.

  • Brian

    We seem to be missing the opportunity here. Let’s load these things with an easy-to-hack copy of the operating and control system. One that contains a back door. That way, if they try to use them against us, we take control through the back door, and use their own knock-off drones against them. It would be like having the bad guys pay for our drone fleet! :-)

  • sdog

    interesting that they claim to be able to reverse engineer this drone, but can’t quite get those f-14’s they got to work quite right.

    • Noha307

      Part of me wants to fight a war with them just to see what would happen when we went up against their Tomcats. (Please note, I don’t actually want to go to war – it’s just a perverse pleasure in my head.)

      Do you think there’s an Iranian version of TOPGUN? (The movie, I mean.)

      • blight_

        Where Hero jock Phantom pilot goes up against Iraqi Mig-28’s on the border, goes to advanced training school and pilots F-4’s against F-5’s or vice versa, then graduates to the Tomcat and uses it against mortal enemy Iraq?

        • Noha307

          First reaction to your post: What’s a MiG-28? (It took me second to remember.)

          (For those who haven’t seen the movie, it’s the fake Soviet/Russian aircraft Tom Cruise fights.)

          • Guest A

            If you havent seen this movie, the terrorists win…

          • Torpedo_Eight

            If you haven’t seen this movie, all you have to do is take Kelly McGillis out of the mix and you have “Rock Hard Gay Waiters”.

      • Ario

        There actually is,Its called Attack on H3(Or “Hamle be H3” in persian) you can watch parts of it on youtube.

    • tiger

      Still flying. F-4’s too.

  • morty

    They can do everything but shoot

  • Kole

    I guarantee that they are not that good in micro-electronics.

  • Jonathan

    For the sheer amount of money we spend on these type of drones, and on our technology in general; it should be better.

    Time and time again it comes to light that our technology is amateur and not at all what we would “expect”. On 9/11 we expected that we can track planes in our skies without their beacon transmitting, and that the course changes these planes underwent would be easily picked up by our “air traffic” control as unscheduled. We expected the Pentagon was protected by anti air defenses. We expected that we had tactics that evolved past zerging humvees into a Taliban neighborhood hoping you don’t run over IED”s over get hit with RPG’s. We expected any military base we build would be immune to mortar fire but instead they are just multi million dollar trailer parks with sandbags.

    We expect our forces in South Korea to be so far underground that the NORKS would even be jealous.

    We expect them to have hundreds of thousands of rockets that pop out of the ground and decimate all of the NORK tunnels, artillery, at a moment notice. Disguised as trees, blades of grass, houses, mountains, etc.

    We expect that it is relatively simple to shoot down “artillery” rounds. We have the knowledge to do it, its a matter if we can pull together what we know. Which seems to be what we always do wrong. Not utilizing the smart people we have in this country. They are either sitting in some basement somewhere or being mismanaged by a monopolistic defense contractor.

    We expect that our borders are protected from country’s like North Korea smuggling nuclear weapons in and burying them underneath a house in the middle of “Random American City”.

    We expect that our weapons are made in the USA.

    We expect that the missiles, tanks, and cannons we use are designed by AMERICANS.

    We expect that computer hardware the military uses is proprietary and not easily reverse engineered. And doesn’t run on Windows or commercial designs(because they are poorly designed as surveillance tools against the population and not safe to use in military settings).

    We expect our research is being protected from foreigners.

    We expect that all this money we spend goes to winning wars by stockpiling and planning for the worst “wars of attrition” and nuclear holocaust scenarios.

    We expect our drones that we knowingly fly into enemy territory to be engineered in a way that they normally do not “Land” while there.


  • Void

    If they had actually done so, they wouldn’t admit it.

  • Jayson

    Nothing is ever foolproof for a clever fool.

  • ChrisCicc

    Considering the US doesn’t confirm these details, Iran can say whatever they want and we’d never know the truth.

  • Ron

    Coping technology is not easy. In 1945 Russia did everything they could to copy the B-29 they put their whole nation into it and it took years. By the time they built there 1st B-29 clone the US was flying jet bombers. By time Iran gets it figured out it and can build their own copy of the RQ-170s years will have pasted. By this time the US will retired RQ-170s from service.

    To pull the maintenance record could be done by most computer hackers. The fact that it has taken Iran this long gives me a sense that they are struggling with it. If they would have had this info the week they downed it I would have been concerned. In the end will find out that the maintenance logs are kept in a old school log book in the aircraft…

    • DGR

      Great point. Just because you can copy it, doenst mean you want it. Had the Russians designed there own long range bomber they might very well have gotten the edge on the US early on. Instead they copied the B-29 in an exact nut and bolt format and were stuck fielding an already obsolete aircraft due to the demands of Stalin. Funny trivia fact though, they couldnt find the correct gauge of steel to use (seeing as how they used the metric system) and so they used the closest alternative. The result was a bomber that weighed 4,000 lbs heavier than the American version.

  • Logan

    Anyone else think this trumpeting of “top secret” data sound a bit too much like Tokyo Rose or Axis Sally?

  • hassani1387

    They have the drone, don’t they? And now we’re expressing disbelief that they could hack it? Look up the word “Hubris”

  • Shree

    The only good news is that Iranians are too proud to share the plane with Russians or chini…chances of it being reverse enggrd in 10 years maybe 90% but in 2 months r u kidding me…they could have only smelled in this time

  • Lance

    Hard to tell Iran lies all the time for propaganda purposes but its possible they could have get some key data on this plane. Time to put self destruct devices on this things.

  • Jim37F

    I’m just a ground pounder, but I get the feeling that even if the downed RQ-170 was also used over UBL’s compound, somehow I doubt the AF would just leave the images in the memory files months later while on a completely unrelated mission. Its not like image files don’t take up any memory or that a drone has unlimited memory space to save stuff from old missions

  • Kski

    Friends do not lesson to those to bit morons. A few arc light strikes by B-52s can show them whose boss of the middle east

  • Tim UK

    I find it difficult to see why Iran is THE nemesis in the Gulf ? The 9/11 hijackers mainly Saudi and were backed by Saudi money , Pakistan is funding the Taliban and has over a 100 nukes .

    The Iranian leadership are a bunch of despots but when has Iran threatened or attacked another nation ? Why would they attack Israel with a nuke when they would end up killing tens of thousands of Palestinians and Israeli arabs in the process ?

    The sanctions are biting hard and we need to keep up the cyber attacks and CIA/Mossad/MI6 operations , but bombing Iran would be plain dumb.

    Remember Iran has a huge well educated pro-western middle class and sits on more Oil and Gas than anyone , we need to just keep up the pressure and the Mullahs and RG will slowly crumble.

  • akaa

    it takes thousand of years to decrypt what has been encrypted, now this dump beard dudes take only a few days to get it done? come on

  • guest

    How much you want to bet that the avionics and microcontrollers in this thing were taken off-the-shelf from civilian prototyping kits and had minimal to no on-board encryption. Any encryption would have been in the radio links, not in the on-board code. For a few reasons: 1) keep it simple stupid. 2) there’s no way this thing is going down in one piece.

  • tom

    when we sent out the RQ-170s , we already have something else allot better in the hangers at area 51.Our policy is never send something we can’t lose.

  • Thunder350

    Iran didn’t hack it, China did and Iran is just taking credit for it.

  • Rob

    Iran maybe can crack/hack nearly every system we have but doesn’t change one fact…. Militarily wone on one, Iran is no match.

    It really boils down to how much they cooperate with Russian and China.

    From my view, our systems are compromised and need redone before a global conflict erupts. As things stand now all our enemies have footholds into all of our network types. Can only hope our alliance has same foothold into their systems.

  • Steph

    Guys you have to look at what a statement of this kind looks like “internally” most likey there’s a bunch of “how great are we” retoric going on and all the forces are being praised and funds are being allocated..
    The millitary corruption is using this as a great way to boost income..
    It’s just like the surveillance photo with the man with binoculars in the plane, and the statement about the Strait of Hormuz, I love the way they say “entering the Persian Gulf via the Strait of Hormuz” as if there was a some other way to get in….

  • B.Bradly


  • Rohan

    Don’t worry, still if they have the maintenance records…they are losers. They have to be taught with the ABC of maintenance !!!

  • mp_19

    gee codes can be changed making what iran has useless what a joke iran is now saying that the us navy is asking permission to enter straights of hormuz

  • madmod

    Iranians have drones and have know-how of maintaining and reverse-engineering the operating in this type drone.

  • madmod

    Almost every electro-chip and electronics components are made in China. Americans are brain of all and the Chinese are the makers of all. We just assembly in America.

  • CPT.Taj

    I have a slight hunch and my personal opinion and from what ive heard from a few military officials my self unofficially, what if the drone was meant to be captured… and its subroutines are providing counter intel. on Irans abilities to attempt to “reverse engineer”. I mean come on it was on a black mission for the CIA, but it was meant to operate for the Air Force. For all we know the damn thing could be sitting there gathering intel on them, maybe thats why military officials havnt said a damn thing about it. Neither confirmed nor denied it…

  • aaron

    honestly guys,,i dont think that what the iranians have is the real thing,,i think its a ploy by the us to fool them,,i mean , just look at that pic,,,i have seen other pics of the real plane and it looks nothing similar to what we have here!

  • Andrew

    I’m sorry, but who cares even if they can reverse engineer them? The engine is less advanced then the F-14s we gave them 30 years ago, and the important stuff was probably damaged in the crash (optics are on the underside) and avionics are probably useless to them.

    Anyway, Who are they going to use them against?
    Israel? Lets see how long the Israelis tolerate something like that.
    Our boats in the Gulf? Sounds like an awesome practice run for the late block Aegis + SM-2 and SM-6 against a LCS target.

  • Elder1

    What is there to encrypt or even worry about anybody finding out about? It has an off the shelf Garrett turbine and a small CPU board for flight control. Might be some terrain following and a radar altimeter. Throw in a good web cam and a satellite telephone and that is about it. The Iranians are probably able to copy it if they have anybody good enough to build a model airplane. I could build one and write the software to run one of those. It isn’t rocket science, literally.