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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. The UK-based magazine Combat Aircraft, which published three new photos of the Beast in its February issue, has now published a further analysis that includes a larger-format version of one of those pictures - which apparently shows a gridded inlet, similar to that of the F-117. via Combat AircraftThat's not necessarily a technological throwback - back in the 1990s, I was talking to one of the original F-117 design team members, and he commented that the grid inlet (which looks like a solid plane surface to a radar) could still be a good solution for a length-limited application, which would otherwise need sharp curves to conceal the front of the engine from radar. I'm beginning to realize what he was talking about.
ar99, beast, rq-170
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