The aircraft was shown beneath an Iranian flag, apparently intact after
crashing 140 miles inside the country last Sunday. State television claimed
that an electronic attack had forced it down by overriding flight systems.
American officials acknowledged the loss of the aircraft, but said it was
more likely the drone had simply crashed.
Russia and China immediately seized their chance to gain a unique insight into
one of the world’s most powerful intelligence assets, asking Iran for
permission to inspect the drone. Surveillance flights over Iran by
CIA-operated aircraft of this kind have been taking place for several years,
using bases in neighbouring Afghanistan. Iran’s nuclear installations are
believed to be the prime target.
The Sentinel, which entered service in 2009, is capable of both intercepting
communications and gathering images. No Sentinels are known to have been
lost before. Unlike other drones used by the CIA, notably the Predator and
the Reaper, the Sentinel carries no weapons and its sole purpose is
If Russia and China are allowed to inspect the Sentinel, their goal would be
to identify – and then replicate – its advanced technology. Elizabeth
Quintana, an expert on unmanned air vehicles at the Royal United Services
Institute, said they would be particularly interested in the drone’s ability
to evade detection by radar.