The United States Air Force has acknowledged the existence of a new type of unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) designated the RQ-170 Sentinel. The new jet powered, stealth reconnaissance drone has been dubbed “the Beast of Kandahar.”
A picture of the “Beast of Kandahar” was first published a few weeks ago in a French blog. According to Popular Mechanics, “It appears to be a stealth, jet-powered UAV with no tail and has fat, round sensor pods on top of the wings.” The RQ-170 Sentinel has been flying out of Kandahar Air Force Base since 2007 and has been providing close support for ground troops operating in Afghanistan.
The “R” designation” would suggest that the “Beast of Kandahar”, unlike the Predator and Reaper drones, is unarmed and is meant for strictly reconnaissance missions. Predators and Reapers are armed with Hellfire missiles and have been used to take out enemy targets, particularly in the Waziristan region of Pakistan, infested with Taliban and Al Qaeda, but technically neutral territory.
The fact that the “Beast of Kandahar” is stealthy, with a design that makes it resemble a B 2 bomber, suggests that it is meant for missions over territory such as Waziristan where stealth and secrecy are necessary. Stealthy drones would also be useful operating in other theaters, where the enemy actually has radar to spot intruding aircraft. Iran, North Korea, and even China come to mind.
Indeed it appears that stealth drones with armament, meant to replace the Predator and the Reaper, are also on the drawing board, scheduled to enter service in 2015. The Popular Mechanics Article refers to a project called the “MQ-X”, designed to build a drone that will not only be stealthy but also have “autonomous features.” That suggests a drone that can operate on its own, to a certain extent, rather than have to be guided by Air Force personnel using joy sticks and remote monitors.
Such a drone would obviously be envisioned for an enemy with far more sophisticated weaponry than the Taliban or Al Qaeda. A jet powered, stealthy, autonomous drone could be used to suppress anti aircraft defenses, much in the way that the stealth F 117 manned air craft were used during the Gulf War and the Iraq War. They could also be used to take out high valued targets without putting pilots at risk in countries with whom the United States are technically not at war with. A terrorist leader hiding out in Pakistan or Iran would be an example.
Will unmanned drones such as the “Beast of Kandahar” or the MQ-X replace piloted aircraft entirely? Likely not, as there will always be missions requiring the independent skill and judgment of pilots. But such drones provide new capabilities for waging the wars of the future.
Source:Air Force Acknowledges Secret Stealth UAV, Joe Pappalardo, Popular Mechanics, December 7th, 2009