Friday, February 19, 2010

"Beast of Kandahar" spotted in Korea?

By Bill Sweetman.AVWK

The Beast of Kandahar gets around. The hitherto-classified Lockheed Martin RQ-170 Sentinel unmanned air vehicle (UAV), its existence disclosed after our enquiries in December, has been sighted outside Afghanistan.

A Korean newspaper report - overlooked when it appeared in December - has now surfaced and states that the UAV had been flying for several months from a South Korean base - probably Osan, where the USAF currently operates U-2s - before it was disclosed.

This revelation points directly to an answer to one of the puzzling questions about the Beast: why would you use a stealthy aircraft to spy on the Taliban? The answer is that you don't, but Afghanistan and South Korea have a common feature: they are next door to nations with missile development programs.

Most likely, therefore, the Beast's current tasking is to gather intelligence on missile launches and (possibly) to test missile-tracking equipment. It's possible - although the photos seen so far are inconclusive - that one or both of the top-mounted fairings carries an electro-optical sensor system. One fairing could cover a satcoms antenna. Alternatively, the aircraft could be gathering telemetry intelligence (TELINT).

There is also the possibility that the Beast's debut has to do with more than ISR. The Missile Defense Agency disclosed last summer that it had been working - under its "black" budget - on airborne infrared missile tracking, using two platforms and stereoscopic techniques to provide interception-grade tracking without radar. The MDA has now issued a request for information covering an Airborne Infrared (ABIR) sensor on a UAV.


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