The Air Force has confirmed the existence of a new Stealth Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV). Designated the RQ-170 Sentinel, “The Beast of Kandahar" has been spotted over Afghanistan (see photo) as early as 2007. The military plans to deploy it for reconnaissance and surveillance missions.
Sources speculate that the RQ-170 will be roughly the same size and have similar payload capability as a Predator. This means it could lug from 500-1,000 lbs of surveillance equipment. The “Beast” was developed by Lockheed Martin's Advanced Development Programs.
Some critics feel the stealthy “Beast” is unnecessary in Afghanistan. Jamey D. Jacob, an associate professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at Oklahoma State University, asks, “Why does the U.S. need to have a super secret stealth UAV in Afghanistan? The Taliban and Al Qaeda don't have radar seeking missiles we know of, so Predators and Global Hawks should work fine.” Dr. Jacob speculates that the RQ-170 may be useful against adversaries (like Iran) who do possess radar based ground-to-air missiles.
But Dr. Jacob is forgetting something. “Close air support” has become a political hot potato. On 6 July, 2009, General Stanley McChrystal issued a memo banning airstrikes (in Afghanistan) except, “under very limited and prescribed conditions.” If surveillance is the primary mission, and the “Beast” performs this role better, then the RQ-170 will take over recon duty.