Notes From the Margins…

We Want Our Drone Back

  • December 13, 2011
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Somewhat improbably, Barack Obama is demanding that Iran returns the Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) that was brought down by the Iranian Army’s electronic warfare unit while carrying out a CIA reconnaissance operations last Thursday.     According to the Washington Times, the Iranians have been trying to extract   data in the Lockheed Martin RQ-170 Sentinel with a view to filing a lawsuit against the United state for ‘invading’ its airspace.

Given that Iran has been the object of various ‘cyberwarfare’ assaults and special forces operations over the last few years, presumably directed by the US and its allies, you might think that  there isn’t really much of an obligation on its part to return a  drone  brought down inside its airspace.   Just imagine for one milisecond how the US might respond to a similar request if an Iranian UAV  was caught loitering over Texas, say.

But the US is clearly miffed at seeing its technological supremacy – and its right to spy on whatever country it wants – challenged by the upstart natives.   Therefore:

“American officials have said that U.S. intelligence assessments indicate that Iran neither shot the drone down nor used electronic or cybertechnology to force it from the sky. They contend the drone malfunctioned.”

So the natives aren’t good enough to challenge the white man’s technology.   But then again, maybe they are, says the Times:

U.S. officials are concerned others may be able to reverse-engineer the chemical composition of the drone”s radar-deflecting paint or the aircraft”s sophisticated optics technology that allows operators to positively identify terror suspects from tens of thousands of feet in the air.   They are also worried adversaries may be able to hack into the drone”s database, although it is not clear whether any data could be recovered. Some surveillance technologies allow video to stream through to operators on the ground but do not store much collected data. If they do, it is encrypted.

Who might these ‘others’ be?   Is Iran  planning to hand the drone over to the EU?   It seems not, since Iran has announced that it plans to ‘reverse-engineer’ the drone and mass produce it.   According to Press TV:

Deputy Chairman of the Majlis Committee on National Security and Foreign Policy Hossein Ebrahimi told Fars News Agency on Sunday that given the scientific capabilities of Iranian military, it will replicate the captured US-built stealth aircraft in the near future.   He added that enemies cannot simply confront the Islamic Republic of Iran, since the country enjoys a variety of devices and advanced technologies that they are not aware of.

No doubt they do.   And behind the propaganda game, this episode may prove to be a seminal moment and not merely in  US-Iranian relations.     For some years now the US has pinned its hopes of achieving ‘Full Spectrum Dominance ‘ ie. complete supremacy in the global ‘battlespace’ on robotics technologies of various kinds.   Technology has also enabled the US to fight ‘wars-that-are-not-wars’, such as the drone offensive in Pakistan, and attack who it wants without fear of reprisal – or the political problems that ensue when US soldiers are actually deployed in large numbers and start dying.

But the history of warfare tells us that every arms race will spur a new  attempt to copy, neutralise and reproduce  new trends in weaponry,  that absolute technological supremacy is generally temporary, and that attempts by one  state or group of states to attain it  may also generate an  arms race that will ultimately change the nature of the ‘battlefield’.

Iran’s experiment with ‘reverse-engineering’ may be one more example of this process, and the Imperium may just have to live with it.




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About Me

I’m a writer, campaigner and journalist.  My latest book is The Savage Frontier: The Pyrenees in History and the Imagination (New Press/Hurst, 2018).  The Infernal Machine is where I write on politics, history, cinema and other things that interest me.

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