The recent Iranian downing of America's latest, high-tech stealth drone, the RQ-170, raises a load of questions that nobody is asking.
Begin by asking just how Iran managed to down the thing in the first place. This technology is supposed to be so stealthy the bad guys aren't even supposed to know it's around.
The Americans say it malfunctioned over Afghanistan and glided in for a crash landing inside Iran. The Iranians claim they detected the drone in their airspace and overrode its guidance systems to bring it down for a safe landing and capture.
Okay, was Iran able to detect this super-stealthy drone? If so, how? What stealth systems - structure, radar absorbent coatings, electronics - would they have to defeat in order to detect it? What technology does Iran have that can defeat America's best stealth technology?
If the RQ-170 drone's stealth technology can be defeated what does that mean for the stealth technology in the F-35s we're planning to buy? Will our potential adversaries have America's stealth secrets in their hands long before we even get delivery of Lockheed's uber-costly stealth fighters?
The F-35 is all about stealth. Without its supposed radar invisibility it's a seriously flawed aircraft. It can't out-turn, out-climb, outrun or outgun even 4th generation Russian aircraft like the SU-30 fighter family. The F-35 compromises virtually every quality that makes a top fighter for the sake of stealth cloaking. It gives up range, payload, agility, speed, twin-engine redundancy - the lot - for supposed radar invisibility. If its stealth cloaking can be defeated (even before it rolls off the assembly lines) it's an aerial white elephant.
The F-35 has always been a high-stakes gamble and now it may be a sucker's bet. A sure bet would be that Iran won't be wasting any time parceling out samples of America's stealth technology to the Russians and the Chinese. They'll inspect and test it for a leg up in developing their own stealth and counter-stealth systems.
According to Navy Times, this is a giant problem for America's stealth programme:
...just an hour after Iranian state television aired images purporting to show off its prize, the Air Force’s top uniformed officer raised the specter of a foreign power copying the stealthy jet’s top-secret technology.
“There is the potential for reverse engineering, clearly,” said Air Force Chief Gen. Norton Schwartz. “Ideally, one would want to maintain the American advantage. That certainly is in our minds.”
If the jet “comes into the possession of a sophisticated adversary,” there’s not much the U.S. could do about it, Schwartz said Thursday during a taping of “This Week in Defense News.”
The Iranian broadcast showed apparent footage of a mostly intact RQ-170 put on public display. While the craft showed some damage, it seemed to be in remarkably good shape.
One source said the aircraft in the footage was definitely the Sentinel, a subsonic, high-altitude reconnaissance aircraft built by Lockheed Martin. The aircraft appeared to have sustained damage consistent with a wheels-up landing, he said.
...The capture of a mostly intact RQ-170 by a hostile power like Iran is “the biggest Christmas present to our enemies in probably a decade, at least,” Goure said
The captured aircraft will help adversaries copy U.S. stealth design techniques, coating materials, engine technology, and UAV command-and-control systems, he said. It will also help them develop countermeasures against stealthy U.S. aircraft.
If the F-35's stealth secrets are out, there's no reason for Canada or anyone else to buy it. That's deeply unfortunate for Lockheed and the Pentagon but that is not Canada's problem.