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Iranian Military Says It's Copying US Drone 350

Posted by timothy
from the so-it's-sort-of-a-buzzing-noise dept.
New submitter skipkent writes "Iran's military has started to build a copy of a U.S. surveillance drone captured last year after breaking the software encryption, Iranian media reported on Sunday. General Amir Ali Hajizadeh, head of the Revolutionary Guards aerospace division, said engineers were in the final stages of decoding data from the Sentinel aircraft, which came down in December near the Afghan border, Mehr news agency reported."
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Iranian Military Says It's Copying US Drone

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  • by qbast (1265706) on Sunday April 22, 2012 @12:33PM (#39763397)
    It's obviously a copyright infringement. If we are lucky, maybe Iranians will just shoot them.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday April 22, 2012 @12:35PM (#39763421)

    If only it were the RIAA or MPAA instead of the CIA, then Iran would be in serious trouble.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday April 22, 2012 @12:35PM (#39763423)

    #1 I doubt it .....
    #2 who is running things over there, Dr. Evil ?
    #3 In the extremely unlikely event that they somehow figured it all out - why on earth would you tell everyone ?

    • by houstonbofh (602064) on Sunday April 22, 2012 @12:49PM (#39763541)

      #3 In the extremely unlikely event that they somehow figured it all out - why on earth would you tell everyone ?

      It increases status, and is a deterrent. Win on all sides.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by theshibboleth (968645)
      Re: #3 They want leverage. They may now have access to the software, but based on the condition of their air force they are using ~30 year old aviation technology and most of that is probably bought from China, Russia, etc. as opposed to being manufactured at home. Since they can't manufacture their own drones anytime soon they can at least potentially trade not using the information for anything else--or more likely not giving it to China or Russia--to advance their nuclear program. (And actually they migh
  • Open Source (Score:5, Interesting)

    by EmperorOfCanada (1332175) on Sunday April 22, 2012 @12:40PM (#39763457)
    It would be funny if they Open Sourced it.
    • Re:Open Source (Score:5, Insightful)

      by WindBourne (631190) on Sunday April 22, 2012 @12:41PM (#39763471) Journal
      In a way, they will. China will no doubt show up with this first.
      • Re:Open Source (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Nerdfest (867930) on Sunday April 22, 2012 @01:38PM (#39763943)

        I'm fairly sure China already has it. These days they most likely had a copy of the plans and the software before the first one was even flown.

        • Sadly, it has been that way for the last 30 years. So odd that we have so many spies in America from China (and some from Russia), and yet we ignore it.
        • by arth1 (260657)

          It's not unthinkable that they wrote it in the first place. Either on contract, or the US stole it.
          (Espionage goes both ways - it's not only the other side that participates in it.)

          Anyhow, it's not a copyright violation unless the code is copied. If it's just studied and you write your own software, they should be in the clear.
          And the Iranians are certainly not bound by any EULA preventing disassembly - it's not like they bought the plane.

    • Re:Open Source (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Zackbass (457384) on Sunday April 22, 2012 @01:06PM (#39763673)

      That strikes more at the heart of the issue here than you may realize. The actual aircraft sitting in their hands is much closer to a compiled binary than source.
      You can poke at it, run it, look inside and try to reverse engineer it, but the real secret sauce that goes into making drones like this is the design/manufacturing techniques and massive high tech industrial base that are necessary to produce the components. The aircraft's engine isn't likely going to give up the secrets of directional crystal growth that go into manufacturing the turbine blades, and the camera's CCD isn't likely to yield the secrets of semiconductor fabrication necessary to produce another one.

      • Re:Open Source (Score:5, Insightful)

        by mspohr (589790) on Sunday April 22, 2012 @01:30PM (#39763893)

        They can probably buy most of the components off the shelf. I doubt they would have to build a semiconductor fab or turbine "directional crystal growth" thingies.
        Small jet engines are readily available (every airliner has one as an auxiliary power generator unit)... same for CCD cameras and lenses. GPS, CPUs and memory are commodity parts. The airframe can be easily reproduced since they have a real model to work from.
        The hard part will be the software that ties it all together and they seem to have made some progress on that front. This could be interesting. I do hope they open source whatever they decompile / reverse engineer / create. I'm sure the open source community would love to have a "drone stack" to work on.

        • Re:Open Source (Score:5, Insightful)

          by Vitriol+Angst (458300) on Sunday April 22, 2012 @05:01PM (#39765469)

          The Iranians should be able to do 95% of a drone off the shelf.

          However, their ability to add $5 Million in cost overruns for each drone might be hampered by an underdeveloped Corporate/Military Industrial Complex.

        • Small jet engines are readily available (every airliner has one as an auxiliary power generator unit)

          While it's true that every airliner has a small turbine powered auxiliary generator, they're no more a small jet engine than my lawn mower's IC engine is a small F1 racing IC engine. Surface similarities in operation emphatically do not imply equalities in capability and performance. (No matter how many times Hollywood tells you that it does.)

          same for CCD cameras and lenses. GPS, CPUs and memory ar

      • by AmiMoJo (196126)

        Most of that stuff is manufactured in China anyway, and the stuff that isn't they probably already stole the design documentation for anyway.

      • Re:Open Source (Score:5, Insightful)

        by girlintraining (1395911) on Sunday April 22, 2012 @01:42PM (#39763975)

        isn't likely to yield the secrets of semiconductor fabrication necessary to produce another one.

        No, but it provides a blue print for what the finished product should look like, which can accelerate parallel development; If I asked you to design a replica of a Lamborghini, I'm sure your efforts would be a lot more successful if I gave you an actual car as opposed to just pictures of it.

        • by colinrichardday (768814) <colin.day.6@hotmail.com> on Sunday April 22, 2012 @02:03PM (#39764181)

          No, if you give someone a Lamborghini, he/she would spend all of his/her time driving it.

          • Lamborghinis are notorious for having very low mileage in the real world. You can't drive a status symbol, it might get dirty. Porsche 911, on the other hand, they get driven every day.
            • although if you are going to drive a car that gets such dismal gas mileage as a Lambo then living in an oil rich country is probably a good move - come to think of it when I was going to college the first Lamborghini Countach I ever saw was being driven by some rich kid from Saudi Arabia

        • " If I asked you to design a replica of a Lamborghini, I'm sure your efforts would be a lot more successful if I gave you an actual car as opposed to just pictures of it."

          Nope. In either case I am completely incompetent with regard to car design, so my design would suck and fail just as miserably as anything the Iranians are likely to come up with.

      • As I heard it they got the Russians and Chinese to take a look when they first acquired it. It would make sense to collaborate with them to try to reverse engineer it.

      • by jeffmeden (135043)

        That strikes more at the heart of the issue here than you may realize. The actual aircraft sitting in their hands is much closer to a compiled binary than source.

        You would think, but it turns out the drone was run on very well documented Ruby. Lucky for us, at the time the drone was built the government was using Rails 1.2 and after trying to upgrade the environment to Rails 3 the Iranians broke every single unit test. What good is a drone with Rails 1.2 these days??? Anyhow, that thing won't be flying again for a long time.

    • by daveschroeder (516195) * on Sunday April 22, 2012 @01:23PM (#39763835)

      The most I can see them doing is build a mockup that looks like it, showing it flying, and then the entire world concluding, "OMG, they copied the US drone!!!111" — except that it won't contain any of the systems and technology aboard the RQ-170.

      Would be a great propaganda victory for Iran, though. Which is exactly the sort of thing they're looking for. Iran's playing up the drone story again, this week saying that Russia and China are aggressively seeking information about it [yahoo.com], and then two days later making this "announcement"? With Iran claiming it used a force field and "advanced space technology" to down the drone [wired.com] (and no, this isn't simply a failure of the translation), nothing is too surprising.

      Of course, US drones have been flying over Iran for years [cbsnews.com], and drones are still flying over Iran after the RQ-170 incident [iran-times.com].

      Interestingly, as the Western press and pundits hyperventilated over the loss of the drone, Iran's state-controlled media and spokesmen repeatedly changed and finessed their story to fit with the most panicked narratives of "what might have happened".

      Logic would dictate that the drone simply malfunctioned and crashed, or at absolute MOST had its control link jammed — a known vulnerability of UAS — and was not brought down in a controlled fashion, nor has been "reverse-engineered".

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        They claim they jammed the control signal and spoofed the GPS (jammed the encrypted signal and spoofed the unencrypted signal which the drone fell back on). The drone then circled (possibly) and eventually decided to return to base and land, which happened at the spoofed location inside Iran. Do you really find that so extremely difficult to believe? Why do you think "logic dictates" that this is a lie? Alternatively, why do you think this doesn't qualify as bringing the drone down in a controlled fashion?

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Dodgy G33za (1669772)

        Logic doesn't come to any such conclusion unless there is already bias in the observer, which with your use of the words "panicked narratives" would indicate that you are.

        The way I see it, they appear to have an undamaged US drone (and I tend to associate crash and aircraft as resulting in lots of bits), which the US by claiming it back seems to have verified. Beyond that everything is speculation because politics and propaganda gets involved.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday April 22, 2012 @12:41PM (#39763467)

    Where Tony Stark pulls up the footage of other countries trying to duplicate his armor? Why do I have a feeling this is going to go something like that.

  • by golodh (893453) on Sunday April 22, 2012 @12:47PM (#39763517)
    They're infringing our copyrights!

    Now I suddenly understand the strategic importance of ACTA. If they'd signed ACTA, we'd nail 'em when they tried to sell their cheap knockoffs to the Chinese, the Russians, the North-Koreans, the Pakistani, the Venezuelans, the Cubans, the Jemenites, the Hamaz guerilla's, and ... .

  • by TheRealMindChild (743925) on Sunday April 22, 2012 @12:56PM (#39763609) Homepage Journal
    Is it just me, or does copying a $100m spy drone that you easily captured seem like a bad direction to go?
  • by dryriver (1010635) on Sunday April 22, 2012 @12:58PM (#39763625)
    While Dubya was in office in the U.S., Iran had a President named Mohammed Khatami. Unlike Ahmedinejad, Khatami was a moderate cleric in favor of womens' rights, political reforms, greater freedoms for Iranians, and other moderate ideals. Khatami also was no opposed to political cooperation with the United States, or at least the restoration of diplomatic relations. Bush could easily have reached out a (limited) hand of friendship, and Khatami might very well have shaken it. Relations between Iran and the U.S. could have improved markedly. What happened instead? Bush's Neocon advisers wanted no cooperation/relationship whatosever to develop with Iran. They wanted to maintain Iran's status as an "Enemy of the United States" (perhaps because Israel was also adamant that things be so, and Iran stay politically isolated). So Dubya never reached out to Khatami politically, and actually did the diametric opposite: Iran was included in post 9/11 America's new, and somewhat stupid concept of a "Axis of Evil" that's messing up everything for everyone. No relationship between the U.S. and Iran whatsoever flourished as a result. Not even a limited one. And what happened to Khatami? The moderate Iran President was eventually overruled by Iran's religious hardliners for being too "moderate" or "modern", and his post went to Mahmoud Ahmedinejad. The window of opportunity for improving relations between Iran and the U.S./West to some degree was there. But the Neocons wanted Iran to stay on the "Enemies of the U.S." list, and did their best to ensure that no rapprochement with Iran would take place. -------- That brings us to today. Iran and the U.S. are currently enemies. Neither side sees any value in engaging in serious talks or toning down the jingoistic rhetoric. The Iran situation could, at any point, turn into another "Hot War" (Israel in particular seems to like that idea a lot). And all this because Dubya's advisers told him not to shake Khatami's hand. The situation could have been very, very different if the West had engaged in even "limited relations" with Khatami's vision of a more moderate Iran.
    • by tomhath (637240) on Sunday April 22, 2012 @01:14PM (#39763739)

      And what happened to Khatami? The moderate Iran President was eventually overruled by Iran's religious hardliners for being too "moderate" or "modern",

      You shot down your own attempt at revisionist history there. Ahmedinejad isn't really all that radical and would probably go along with some kind of improved relations if he could get away with it, but that's no more an option for him now than it was for Khatami ten years ago.

      • by PPH (736903) on Sunday April 22, 2012 @02:03PM (#39764185)

        Not inconsistent, actually. The theocrats put Khatami into power to test the waters, so to speak. Would the US (and the rest of the world) approach a pragmatist? The answer which Bush the Lesser provided was, "No". So they tossed Khatami out and put Ahmedinejad in.

        Now, it really doesn't matter whether Ahmedinejad is capable of moderation or not. He is capable of playing (or actually is) a fanatic. And that's all that matters. The clerics gave moderation a chance and it failed. So they went with the hard line stance. Their position looks entirely logical. From their point of view, the USA has no consistent policy towards Iran, the Middle East, or the world, for that matter. It all depends on who we put into office every four years. And more often than not, that person is selected by the nuttiest of either of our political extremes. If I were Iran, I'd be building nukes, drones and anything else I could use to defend myself against such a manic-depressive political regime.

        Dealing with the USA is akin to living with a woman who suffers from severe PMS.

        • by jklovanc (1603149)

          The moderate Iran President was eventually overruled by Iran's religious hardliners for being too "moderate" or "modern", and his post went to Mahmoud Ahmedinejad.

          Actually Mohammed Khatami served his maximum two terms as president; much like the US. Iran's religious hardliners didn't kick him out he just could not run again by law.

          The Iran situation could, at any point, turn into another "Hot War" (Israel in particular seems to like that idea a lot).

          Yeah, Israel really wants a Hot War where thousand of their people may die and possibly millions if they get nuked. I don't think they are that stupid. Israel wants security and that is very difficult with a nuclear Iran considering some of their statements such as proposing moving the Jewish state to Europe (which ignores the fact that mos

    • by ichthus (72442)
      If you're going to blame past presidents for our current situation with Iran, you might want to start with Carter.
  • by l0ungeb0y (442022) on Sunday April 22, 2012 @01:01PM (#39763649) Homepage Journal

    Hi Iran, we here at the US DoD notice you're trying to build a Predator UAV. Of course Predators are pretty toothless without Hellfire missiles. So to show there's no hard feelings, we decided to send you some. An entire shipment of Hellfire Missiles should be arriving at your reverse engineering facility in just about ... now.

    • Iran has a good stock of Maverick missiles, which could be mounted in place of Hellfires (mavericks are larger).

      • by MightyYar (622222)

        Hellfire is a tiny little thing... only about 100lbs. Mavericks are at least 5-6 times that massive and significantly longer. I don't think it would be easy to get a small drone to fire them, and if you did it would still be able to carry 5 or 6 hellfires for every 1 maverick. Also, there's a huge gap in technology - the Maverick is a product of the 60s and the Hellfire (well, the II) is a product of the 90s.

  • For what purpose? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by AmiMoJo (196126) <mojo@NOspaM.world3.net> on Sunday April 22, 2012 @01:06PM (#39763675) Homepage

    Drones over Israel? Over the US?

    I'd love to see either of those things happen, just to watch the reaction. The US seems to think it is fine to send spy drones over Iran, so presumably it's just fair game to send them over the mainland US too.

    The US has spy satellites watching every corner of the earth, presumably the collective EU and China do too, Japan has some... Naturally Iran will be putting its own up at some point, and North Korea will too eventually. Fair's fair, right?

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by spire3661 (1038968)
      Its funny that you think the word fair comes into play at all when talking about sovereignty. We are not interested in being fair, nor should we be.
    • by tomhath (637240)

      Of course all countries capable of sending up spy satellites are doing so. Remember the Soviet's Salyut and Mir space stations? They were up there for "research" right? Sure, for 30 years they conducted "research".

      The problem with spy satellites is that the other guy knows when they'll fly overhead and from what direction the pictures will be taken; they're good for strategic information but not all that useful for real time or covert collection.

    • by PPH (736903)
      AA practice.
    • by MightyYar (622222)

      Fair's fair, right?

      Who the hell wants fair except the people without the advantage?

  • Copy a copy? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by BenJeremy (181303) on Sunday April 22, 2012 @01:10PM (#39763707)

    They didn't capture a drone intact, they displayed a mockup, and a bad one at that.

    All this talk about creating their own drone is more propaganda to prop up the Iranian government's "rep" in the middle east among Islamic countries, who pretty much buy everything Iran's news agencies pump out, clonebrush photoshops, crappy models and all.

  • At least they concentrate their resources on this rather than drones.

  • The United States winning any particular technological arms race benefits no one.

  • Iran isn't a backwater. They have a robotics industry and a space program. Maybe not as sophisticated as Japan, and the US, but pilotless drones aren't designed with cutting edge technology. I don't see why this would be outside Iran's current capabilities.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by ScentCone (795499)

      Iran isn't a backwater.

      True, other than the misogynistic, medieval-minded, mass-murdering theocratic thuggery, arm-the-suicide-bombers-who-blow-up-vegetable-markets type stuff. You're right, other than the part where their religious police will arrest you for the wrong sort of hair or beard arrangement, or where their language police have banned the word "pizza," or where they kill people for saying the wrong things, or approve death by stoning ... yup, other than that sort of stuff, it might as well be downtown San Francisco, o

  • They're just going to take the one they have and put gold curtain rods & blue carpet in it.

    (South Park)
  • No one has commented about them "breaking the software encryption". I am surprised that it would be so easy to do. Could it be true ?
    Does anyone has insight into what type of encryption is used or how it could be broken ? I'm pretty sure it's not ROT13.

    • by Deadstick (535032)

      Probably media-speak for disassembling. In fact, that's precisely how a mechanical engineer coworker once described a 6502 disassembler I'd written in my 8-bit Atari days.

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