The downing the a worldwide Hawk drone ratchets up tensions, already running high, between the US and also Iran.Alamy

Early Thursday morning, Iran shot under a United claims unmanned aerial vehicle over the Strait of Hormuz, i beg your pardon runs between the Persian Gulf and also the Gulf of Oman. Iran figured out the drone as an RQ-4A worldwide Hawk, a $220 million UAV the acts together a substantial surveillance platform in the sky. The attack marks one escalation v tensions already running high between the US and Iran—particularly because of the value and technical sensitivity that the downed drone.

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Iran's Islamic Revolutionary guard Corps stated on Thursday the the Northrup Grumman-made worldwide Hawk—part that a multibillion-dollar routine that dates earlier to 2001—had gotten in Iranian airspace and crashed in Iranian waters; US central Command shown the time and also general place of the attack, however insists that the drone was flying in worldwide airspace.

The event comes top top the heels of an additional situation critical week in i m sorry the united state accused Iran the attacking 2 fuel tankers in the Gulf the Oman. The US likewise said the Iran had attempted come shoot down a different UAV—an MQ-9 reaping machine drone—but failed. The Pentagon likewise linked Iran come an attack on a reaping machine drone in Yemen 2 weeks ago that resulted in the car to crash. Thursday's attack, though, target a massive and much more expensive security drone, and also likely represents a an ext definite escalation.

"There's a lot going on here, and also we're more than likely only seeing several of it," states Thomas Karako, director of the Missile Defense project at the center for Strategic and also International Studies. "This is a more expensive, higher-altitude, much more capable, long-range intelligence surveillance enlightenment craft. If they’re shooting under aircraft in global airspace over worldwide waters, that's likely to elicit some sort of measure up reprisal."

Global falken are enormous surveillance platforms, in operation since 2001, through a wingspan of more than 130 feet and also a maximum takeoff load of an ext than 16 tons, indistinguishable to around seven shipping containers that cocaine. They have a selection of much more than 12,000 nautical miles, can fly in ~ strikingly high altitudes the 60,000 feet, and can continue to be aloft because that 34 hours straight. They have no attack capabilities; their worth lies in their capability to incorporate range, vantage point, and also persistence with powerful surveillance sensors to monitor ground or maritime activity in an excellent detail. According to evaluation by the federal government Accountability Office, an international Hawks have actually at times expense the US much more than $220 million come manufacture and equip.

Global falken generally incorporate infrared and also thermal imaging, radar, and electro-optical imaging in their arsenal that sensors. And their substantial size and also weight capacity enables the drones to utilize tools like substantial telephoto camera lenses come get in-depth views the targets. However as Ulrike Franke, a policy other at the european Council on foreign Relations and also a drone researcher, notes, the US military custom-outfits different vehicles for different missions, make it unsure what exact equipment this particular worldwide Hawk carried. "There could constantly be super mystery spy tech onboard that us don’t understand about," states Franke.

It's likely, though, that this particular global Hawk to be a usual surveillance workhorse, claims Franke, and also was downed for geopolitical reasons quite than v the details goal of technical reconnaissance. It's uncertain if components of the drone are also recoverable, or if that was ruined in the attack. Iran memorably captured a united state RQ-170 Sentinel drone in December 2011 and later declared to have actually reverse engineered the vehicle's hardware and software come copy its technology. Sentinel drones room thought to use stealth technology for inconspicuous aerial reconnaissance. Critical year, Israeli officials stated they had actually intercepted one Iranian drone that showed up to be a "copy" of a Sentinel.

As because that whether the global Hawk to be flying end Iranian airspace, researcher say that critical proof would require the united state releasing details about the drone's flight path. "Whether they desire to release that is more of a policy decision," Karako says. "But thus far CentCom is insistent that it to be in worldwide airspace."

It's currently unknown in ~ what altitude the drone to be flying as soon as it was downed, yet if it remained in its high-altitude zone the would have actually been a somewhat difficult target come nab. Still, Franke emphasizes the such one interception is in ~ the border of Iran's known capabilities.

"Part of the selling suggest is an international Hawks fly so high and normally they should be certain from gift shot down," Franke says. "It’s no incredibly complicated to shoot under a mechanism like that, but it’s comparatively difficult. It mirrors resolve ~ above the politics side."

In response, chairman Donald Trump originally tweeted on Thursday, "Iran made a very big mistake!" In later comments, though, he appeared to take a less aggressive tone, saying, "I find it difficult to think it was intentional." experts say, though, that while the is no shocking the Iran possesses the intercept an innovation to shoot the drone down, it would certainly have forced a radar-guided, surface-to-air missile system—seemingly one of two people an SA-6 or SA-17 SAM offered to Iran by Russia. A much more flexible heat-seeking, shoulder-fired missile system can not have hit a target at high altitude. In various other words, you can't take under a worldwide Hawk unless you really, really average to.

This story has been update to show that the SAM device that may have shot down the an international Hawk was the SA-17. It had actually originally claimed SA-7, a shoulder-launched system.

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Lily Hay Newman is a an elderly writer at concentrated on information security, digital privacy, and hacking. She previously operated as a modern technology reporter at Slate magazine and also was the staff writer for Future Tense, a publication and project the Slate, the brand-new America Foundation, and Arizona State University. Additionally... Review more
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