Could this be the smoking electron in the alleged unmanned air vehicle (UAV) incident over Iran?
The original reports that Iran "shot down" a Lockheed Martin RQ-170 Sentinel appear to be misleading. Iranian news agency reports credited the army's electronic warfare unit with bringing down the UAV, but apparently in a way that limited the amount of damage on landing or impact.
Only six weeks ago, Russia announced delivering the Avtobaza ground-based electronic intelligence and jamming system (shown below) to Iran. Most Russian weapons exports to Iran are blocked, including the proposed transfer of the S-300 surface to air missile system. But there is a key difference between a SAM battery and a jamming system. The S-300 can vastly complicate a strike on an Iranian nuclear site at Natanz or Qoms. A jamming system, such as the Avtobaza, is unlikely to be used to defend such a site because it could interfere with the radar of the S-300 or the Tor-M1 SAM battery.
The Avtobaza, moreover, is designed to jam side-looking and fire control radars on aircraft and manipulate the guidance and control systems of incoming enemy missiles. It would be the perfect tool to target and perhaps infiltrate the communications link that allows a UAV to be controlled from a remote location.
The incident, of course, has not been confirmed with visual evidence of the allegedly captured RQ-170. Unlike 50 years ago, when the Soviet Union shot down the Lockheed U-2, the Iranians will not be able to produce a captured Francis Gary Powers. In 1961, the Soviets appeared to destroy their credibility by releasing imagery of the wreckage of the wrong aircraft — a luckless MiG possibly shot down by mistake in the fusillade aimed at Powers' U-2. When the Soviets produced Powers, who survived and was captured, the world finally had undeniable proof.
So there is no script in the propaganda textbook for these kinds of incidents. They tend to evolve in their own way. Iran may never produce evidence to back up their claims, or they might later today.
Interestingly, the International Security Assistance Force has made no effort to deny Iran's claims. Instead, the NATO headquarters in Kabul issued a statement acknowledging the loss of one of their UAVs over western Afghanistan last week. The statement also suggested the Iranians may have simply found the misplaced UAV for them. It may be important that NATO officials did not deny Iran's claims that the UAV was the RQ-170, which is known to operate from Kandahar where it was originally spotted.
FROM OCTOBER 2011
MOSCOW – Russia has sent a set of mobile radar jammers to Iran and is negotiating future deliveries that Moscow believes do not contravene current United Nations sanctions on the Islamic state's regime, an official said Tuesday.
The Avtobaza truck-mounted jammers are part of a broader line of arms Russia hopes to sell Iran despite concerns over Tehran's nuclear program, the deputy head of the military and technical cooperation agency said.
"This is a defensive system," the agency's deputy director Konstantin Biryulin was quoted as saying by the state RIA Novosti news agency.
"We are not talking about jets, submarines or even S-300 (missile) systems. We are talking about providing security for the Iranian state.
"We are in constant talks with Iran over that country's purchases of military technology that does not fall under UN sanctions," he was quoted as saying.
The arms delivery was disclosed the same day as a Western diplomat said Russia and China were urging the UN atomic agency to soften, or even hold back, a report detailing Iran's suspected efforts to develop nuclear weapons.
Russia had strongly defended its close trading partner until agreeing in September 2010 to cancel a planned sale of S-300 missile systems and supporting stronger sanctions against Tehran.
But limited arms shipments have continued and Iran last month finally put a Russian-made nuclear power plant on stream in Bushehr after years of delays.
Biryulin did not disclose when the radar systems were delivered or how many units were sold.