Lockheed Martin RQ-170 Sentinel

Lockheed Martin’s cooperation directly with the USAF without other stakeholders has worked well and the results have left so long in coming. During 2004, succeeded Phae concept and the company received a contract to manufacture pre-series development demonstrator. Basically it was a larger and more powerful successor DarkStar aircraft, designed to penetrate the heavily impeded hostile airspace at medium to high altitudes and provide critical real-time information directly to field commanders sentinel units. The aim was mainly to develop and finally also included in full operational service machines successor SR-71 Blackbird, but with respect to the new trends of the modern battlefield. This initial version znamelano optimization, especially for low intenztity conflicts. The experience of the then armed conflicts, however, suggest that the forthcoming weapon system will be needed for very different roles that were planned for DarkStar machine and also that it will face a much wider range of potential threats. The main improvements over previous projects are highly sophisticated and significantly more reliable flight control system, the communications antenna, which should have been in retaliation against interference placed on top of the hull and only communicate with the satellites. That flight control software and communications antennas with a low probability of detection and interference have been the Achilles heel of the previous aircraft DarkStar.

The aircraft was designed primarily for mission-type ISR (Intelligence Surveillance Reconnaissance) sensor formed with the main type of AESA radar with powerful innovative antenna. Another mission is to serve as a secret communication node in the type of NCCT countries (Non-Cooperative Countries and Territories). In later stages of development are directly calculated using the kinetic nekinetick�ch weapons. While kinetic weapons, mainly represented by a little over-guided bombs, SDB (Small Diameter Bomb), are the focus of military planners, much more attention to earning the opportunity to improve the status of AESA radar guns. Its task will then nab�rava\u0165 into computer networks and electronic equipment, either for the purpose of gaining control at a critical moment, or destruction. This is a very significant difference in comparison with all previous projects of this category of aircraft, whose only task was to collect information and submit for evaluation. RQ-170 system is built on the experience of military campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan, so will the doctrine Kill Chain’s ability to source information and active attack. In particular, the time-critical targets. Furthermore compliant AESA antennas that are embedded directly in the hull, is designed for modular payload space behind the front landing gear in the central part of the machine. There he completed an electro-sensor system. However, the USAF had the means of even one important requirement: like your aircraft immediately! Development schedule therefore had to be extremely fast. This can be achieved both by using existing available systems such as chassis, engines and avionics, as well as spreading the risk over several concurrent, albeit not directly related to programs, especially the already described technology demonstrator Polecam P-175. The agent also benefited from the technology and knowledge developed during the development of UCAV unmanned fighting machines and contain some very unusual design features such as retractable into the body-front leg. The first prototype aircraft, although in a reduced number of limitations issue as was done in 2005 and serve on a review of the overall operational scheme. First September, the air base at Creech AFB in Nevada quietly down 30th Reconnaissance Squadron, 57th Operations belonging to the Group and operating out of Tonopah Test Range. The official machinery should operate reconnaissance RQ-1 and later versions of their combat MQ-9, but it must be noted that this type of aircraft in service units that nobody has ever seen. The fleet was in fact prepared to run just type RQ-170 Sentinel.

Sentinel has been designed so that, whether accidentally or purposely indirect competition consisted of J-UCAS. Contrary to the clich�s is unmanned UCAV fighter category in the minds of American armed forces is not only a classic copy of unmanned combat aircraft, but rather a specialized weapon systems designed for research, electronic warfare and destruction of enemy air defenses. J-UCAS program was also largely a product of another DARPA, which promote a variety of compromises between the armed forces on behalf of the above objectives, among which representatives of the USAF evoked considerable resentment. The rich experience of the past, especially in the development of the F-111, LWF, and F-35 clearly indicated that it is almost impossible to develop a common platform to a modern air force and navy without a significant reduction of important performance characteristics of the aircraft or excessive costs. Then came what was to come. In 2005, the J-UCAS program transferred from DARPA under the joint management of the U.S. Air Force and Navy, and now it has been proposed for repeal. During the 2006 financial year it should be allocated only $ 80 million, with the saved money be divided into two new programs: UCAV-N for the U.S. Navy and the “secret USAF program” for aviation. Of course it was a RQ-170 Sentinel, and in this way to ensure funding of operational testing and mass production. It was originally envisaged that in the first quarter of 2006, Lockheed Martin will make an official statement that the branch Skunk Works is working on a new unmanned exploratory system, but it happened. Instead it was decided to hide the ongoing work to disclose the existence of technological demonstrator Polecam P-175, which certainly pleased Lockheed PR department. The staff were so valuable opportunity to finally present your company as a leading manufacturer of unmanned combat means, as long as we had a chance seeing as largely visualization drawings or at best Mock.

What was strange, but also in line with the rapid work schedule was not yet undeveloped means of deploying the sharp hostilities in Afghanistan at the turn of 2006 and 2007. This was made possible mainly using conventional technologies, which did not form the absolute top in the development and threatened the risk that the recent military research gets into enemy hands. At the same time that the agent made directly to the tasks for which it was intended to significantly shorten the concept elaboration, because in real combat situations can be much quicker to recognize deficiencies or lack of possibility of the aircraft and subsequently amended. In early 2009, began to appear first in the media blurred photographs, showing the unidentified aircraft flying wing concept. According to initial information, were made members of the French contingent in 2007 at the airport in Kandahar.

In mid-2009 there have been other significant observation, which was unusual aircraft identified again in Kandahar. According to eyewitnesses, was towed away shortly after landing in the hangar of General Atomics, where they operate unmanned aerial vehicles RQ-1 Predator and MQ-9 Reaper. In this case it was a machine RQ-170 Sentinel, which uses the infrastructure in Kandahar and landing system, aircraft currently used RQ-1 and MQ-9. Detailed photos first appeared in early December 2009 and published it to the French journalist Jean-Dominique Merchet (working for the newspaper Liberation) on his internet blog. Immediately aroused worldwide excitement and interest in unidentified drone. A few days later, U.S. Air Force official grudgingly admitted the existence of the machine, but the information was more than a group. Although the project was officially declassified a month earlier, nobody nehrnul publish photos or further details. A little later succeeded magazine Air Forces Monthly published three other photographs of unknown origin, showing vzlietaj�ci machine.

Moreover, there is reason to suspect that all the photos that leaked out is shown initial version of the period 2005/2006. It does not have is any indication (as in the case of a machine, operated by the CIA and NRO was also to separate, but in this case special is the USAF), are likely to surface coating or (as the hull is clearly visible joints composite material), or other essential details such as landing lights. First and for a long time the only picture that shows the aircraft at the current level of operational capability, and published by Michael Yon from previous varies considerably. Most importantly, the entire surface applied gray paint, which is suitable for operations in the average height for the main landing gear door shafts appeared landing lights and the wing leading edge can be found on each side a sort of three slots, probably sensing sensors placed formative or unusual lights. It is expected that the number of aircraft will be quite limited and not exceed 20 series units. But even though the U.S. Air Force achieved its goal - has in its arsenal of advanced spy plane with a low probability of detection, which can immediately be used to fulfill various missions in the current conflict. The actual missions are quite different yet strangely enough, not only compared with the national strategic means Aars, but even with quasi-predecessor of Lockheed DarkStar. Future development funds will be channeled into more strategic areas, because until now is an acute need to meet specific goals and tasks in low intensity conflicts, mainly against isolated terrorist groups, in future, the more the need to operate in conventional wars against states with the regular army.


The Sentinel was developed by Lockheed Martin’s Skunk Works as a stealth UAV. Journalists have noted design similarities between the RQ-170 and previous stealth and UAV programs such as the RQ-3 DarkStar and Polecat. It is a tail-less flying wing aircraft with pods, presumably for sensors or SATCOMS, built into the upper surface of each wing. Few details of the UAV’s characteristics have been released, but estimates of its wingspan range from approximately 65 feet (20 m) to between 75 feet (23 m) and 90 feet (27 m).

Service History

The USAF confirmed the “grainy photos of a gray, flying-wing-typed unmanned airplane near Kandahar Airfield” in relation to the discussion of the RQ-170 Sentinel on 4 December 2009. A USAF colonel subsequently commented that RQ-170 is separate from the MQ-X program, which has yet to determine stealth or powerplant requirements, and thus the Sentinel will not replace the MQ-1 Predator and MQ-9 Reaper drones currently in service. As of May 2011, the US Military had not released any statements concerning the Sentinel since December 2009.

The 30th Reconnaissance Squadron operates RQ-170 Sentinels. This squadron, which is based at Tonopah Test Range Airport in Nevada, was activated on 1 September 2005. RQ-170 Sentinels have been deployed to Afghanistan, where one was sighted at Kandahar International Airport in late 2007. This sighting, and the Sentinel’s secret status at the time, led Bill Sweetman to dub it the “Beast of Kandahar”. The UAV being deployed to Afghanistan, despite the Taliban having no radar, has led to speculation that the aircraft is being used to spy on Pakistan or Iran.

In December 2009, South Korea’s JoongAng Daily newspaper reported that the RQ-170 Sentinel had been test-flown in South Korea for the past few months and that it was expected that they would be permanently deployed in 2010 to replace Lockheed U-2 reconnaissance aircraft operating from Osan Air Base.[16] In response to this report, Bill Sweetman argued that the Sentinel’s deployments to Afghanistan and South Korea were probably undertaken to monitor Pakistan and North Korea’s ballistic missile programs.

In August 2010 it was reported that RQ-170s either had been or were about to be redeployed to Afghanistan and that the UAVs had been fitted with a full motion video capability. The missions performed by these aircraft included flying dozens of high altitude sorties over Pakistan to monitor a compound in the town of Abbottabad where terrorist leader Osama bin Laden was believed to be living. On the night of ½ May 2011 at least one RQ-170 monitored the area while elements of the United States Naval Special Warfare Development Group launched an assault on the compound which resulted in bin Laden’s death. The aircraft provided footage of the attack which was watched live by President Barack Obama and his senior national security advisors. The RQ-170 also monitored Pakistani military radio transmissions in the area to provide warning of the response to the attack. On 27 May the Los Angeles Times reported that Pakistani officials were “alarmed” by the use of the RQ-170 over their country as the drones are “designed to evade radar and other surveillance systems, and can be used as a spy plane”.