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Beast of Kandhar ( US Stealth Drone )

It returns from the skies! Back in 2009, the Air Force confirmed that it had a mysterious stealth drone, the Lockheed RQ-170, flying over Kandahar in Afghanistan —
the subject of much online speculation and grainy photography. Now, after something of a lull, the Secret Projects forum has new pics of the drone that Ares aviation ace Bill Sweetman dubbed “The Beast of Kandahar.”

Not much is known about the Beast. It’s not believed to carry any missiles, and the new photographs don’t indicate that it’s armed. And as David Hambling wrote at Danger Room at the time, it’s a mystery why the stealth Beast even patrols Kandahar, given all the other drones in the skies above and the Taliban’s lack of radar.

But Sweetman, the undisputed expert on the drone, writes that the new pictures indicate some possible missions for the Beast, which he considers “moderately stealthy.” Judging from the belly shape, the Beast could be configured “for strike missions or to carry a high-power microwave source.” The Air Force is definitely interested in microwave weaponry, as last month it gave BAE Systems $150,000 to fry computers with microwaves, to see how much damage they can withstand. A month before, it gave Lockheed $230,000 to develop a “high-power microwave energy weapon” concept; Sweetman promptly guessed that the Beast might be a platform for it.

Still, that wouldn’t explain what the Beast does now. Sweetman writes, “It could also be an effective ’stand-in’ jamming platform to support other aircraft.” So the Beast as a jammer in Afghanistan? The Taliban’s homemade bombs don’t rely so much on cellphone or radio signals for remote detonation. But maybe Hambling’s right that the Beast is only based out of Kandahar and charged with “carrying out missions outside of Afghanistan, with Iran and Pakistan both being possible candidates.” (It would have to fly awfully far to get to Iran, though there are reports that it has.) Is Afghanistan just an unlikely testing ground for the new drone?

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