December 07, 2011, 12:18 PM — As usual when it comes to conflicts between Iran and the U.S., governments of the two countries have released vastly different, equally unprovable versions of the story behind the loss of a U.S. drone spy plane.
Iran claims to have downed an unmanned U.S. spy plane flying deep within its own territory, though it has yet to publish pictures or other evidence of the downed spy plane.
U.S. officials admitted a U.S. drone crashed in Iran and claim to have spotted it in satellite photos. Anonymous sources Told the Associated press the drone was on a mission to scout Western Afghanistan on behalf of the CIA, when its guidance, communications or other systems failed, causing it to lose contact with controllers, fly mistakenly into Iranian air space and ultimately crash.
The RQ-170 flies high – 30,000 to 50,000 feet – to avoid anti-aircraft fire from the ground, or interception by lower-flying fighter planes.
In Afghanistan – which has little anti-aircraft capability more sophisticated than low-altitude, shoulder-fired missiles with a range of only a few thousand feet – there is no reason to use such a high-flying stealth drone, Sky News points out.
Pakistan and Iran, both of which have comparatively sophisticated anti-aircraft detection and weapons systems, border on Afghanistan, making them U.S. bases in Afghanistan ideal launch points for reconnaissance missions over both countries – one overtly hostile, one a titular ally with many factions in the military and government that are hostile to the U.S.
U.S. forces have been very successful for several years using lower-altitude Predators to whittle away the ranks of No. 2 leaders of al Queda.
The RQ-170 does not carry weapons, but is widely credited for having collected live video of Osama bin Laden's compound before and during the raid by U.S. SEALS in which the al Queda leader was killed.
The RQ-170 was designed to fly covert spy missions over China and Korea, both much more heavily defended and sophisticated in their anti-aircraft capabilities than Iran, according to National Journal.