It looks like you're using an Ad Blocker.

Please white-list or disable in your ad-blocking tool.

Thank you.


Some features of ATS will be disabled while you continue to use an ad-blocker.


RQ-170 hi-jacked via GPS?

page: 1

log in


posted on Dec, 17 2011 @ 02:20 PM

In an exclusive interview, an engineer working to unlock the secrets of the captured RQ-170 Sentinel says they exploited a known vulnerability and tricked the US drone into landing in Iran.

Interesting article. They went for the weak link in the system apparently, which was the GPS set up. Thats very clever and potentially disturbing for the USAF and Navy if you think about the reliance on GPS guided weaponry.

What do we reckon folks? definite chink in the armour or something thats fixable?

posted on Dec, 17 2011 @ 02:30 PM
reply to post by neformore

It seems very plausible that there would be a weak system like this. I'm sure it's very fixable though, it should just be a matter of changing the language/protocol the drone uses to process the GPS info or perhaps something at the satellite level. It all depends on which part of the process they hijacked I guess.

What does everyone else think? I've heard a few stories about it so far, including an interesting link to Russian radar jamming equipment. I'm glad Iran are being quite public about it though, can you Imagine the US/UK government broadcasting this kind of thing?

Good on them I say

posted on Dec, 17 2011 @ 02:36 PM
remember the stealth chopper from the seal team 6 bin laden raid that mysteriously exploded, and they recovered a tail from?

could that have been the first hijack attempt? leading to a self destruct?

posted on Dec, 17 2011 @ 02:43 PM
reply to post by neformore

It's very fixable.

GPS data is often not encrypted. That will most likely change in the coming months and years, however.

posted on Dec, 17 2011 @ 02:55 PM
GPS jamming, feasible. But this would have to have been anticipated and contingencies created.

"Reconfiguring GPS coordinates", spoofing a location, is a lot less feasible. In order for that to be done false signals (very precise signals) would need to be transmitted on GPS frequencies while simultaneously jamming the same frequencies used by the GPS satellites. Problematic.

Iranian propaganda most likely.

edit on 12/17/2011 by Phage because: (no reason given)

posted on Dec, 17 2011 @ 02:55 PM
Well, untill the military understands that we are in a new age than 20 years ago and you can basicly do anything through computers, stuff like this will happen.

They will probably fix the exploit but there will be another exploit found and another one after that and another after that and so on. this is how technology works and there will never be a perfect system. all systems are vulnerable, it's up to them how fast they can close the exploit when it is found. Today, with an army of 1000 hackers you can bring a technologically advanced country to it's knees without firing a single shot. Think about it, starting with the traffic lights in a city that are all linked these days, moving to the energy transfer systems that also are linked to the nuclear powerplants that work in a smart system, all of them are accessible if you manage to find the right track. But information society has also it's good part
everything tech based is traceable, in real time. if you have the manpower to fight back you can counter any exploit in real time. Apparently the US military did not have sufficinnt manpower to counter the hack and lost this battle. maybe next time they will be more prepared and they will manage to save their torn image.

Also, I suspect the Iranians also have a second exploit since they let this one "slip". And they are fully aware that this exploit is closed now. However, it's just a matter of time untill they find a new bug.

posted on Dec, 17 2011 @ 02:57 PM
reply to post by Phage

Is it possible for the Iranian to hack a GPS satellite?

I'm really not 100% on how that would work to be honest.

I'm guessing the truth is that there was some sort of catastrophic malfunction that prevented the fail safe/fly home system from working properly.

posted on Dec, 17 2011 @ 03:05 PM
reply to post by projectvxn

Hacking a GPS satellite would do nothing. A fix is not determined by a single satellite. The navigational signals sent by GPS satellites carry very little information, pretty much just an ID and timestamp. The locating is done by determining where a satellite is (based on its ephemeris) and how long the signal takes to get to the reciever at the speed of light. It thus takes a minimum of three satellites to get a fix (the more the better). If one satellite is giving "funny" data it is ignored as being wonky. If several satellites were hacked, the entire GPS system would be screwed up. Hacking the satellites is out.

We won't ever know what happened. The military aren't about to advertise the weaknesses of the machine but I bet the same thing doesn't happen the same way again.

edit on 12/17/2011 by Phage because: (no reason given)

posted on Dec, 17 2011 @ 03:12 PM
reply to post by Phage

I wouldn't dismiss it so easily. truth is we'll probably never find you how they jacked the bird but if I would be the military I would be worried like hell. even better, if I would be in the congress I would start to ask a couple of questions since the budget for smart weapens is pretty big is it not USA?

posted on Dec, 17 2011 @ 03:52 PM
Found this:


The official report was prepared for the National Coordination Office for Space-based Positioning, Navigation and Timing, an advisory committee made up of government and industry professionals, and confirms earlier findings that the proposed 4G network could cause harmful interference. Following these earlier tests, LightSquared, which is wholly owned by Harbinger Capital Partners, a hedge fund run by millionaire Philip Falcone, agreed to reduce the power of its transmitters and use only frequencies furthest from the GPS frequencies to avoid interference.

...plans to ‘work with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) on addressing the one remaining issue regarding terrain avoidance systems.’ However, he said the company disagrees with the conclusion that the network would interfere with general navigation devices...

OP source article...

From Page three...

GPS signals are weak and can be easily outpunched [overridden] by poorly controlled signals from television towers, devices such as laptops and MP3 players, or even mobile satellite services," Andrew Dempster, a professor from the University of New South Wales School of Surveying and Spatial Information Systems, told a March conference on GPS vulnerability in Australia.

"This is not only a significant hazard for military, industrial, and civilian transport and communication systems, but criminals have worked out how they can jam GPS," he says.

The US military has sought for years to fortify or find alternatives to the GPS system of satellites, which are used for both military and civilian purposes. In 2003, a “Vulnerability Assessment Team” at Los Alamos National Laboratory published research explaining how weak GPS signals were easily overwhelmed with a stronger local signal.

“A more pernicious attack involves feeding the GPS receiver fake GPS signals so that it believes it is located somewhere in space and time that it is not,” reads the Los Alamos report. “In a sophisticated spoofing attack, the adversary would send a false signal reporting the moving target’s true position and then gradually walk the target to a false position.”

So not only is the GPS system vulnerable to interference, but Los Alamos theorizes that a dedicated effort could actually fool a guidance system as to its whereabouts. Not by hacking anything, just providing false GPS data at the exact right moment. Read the articles. OP source is 4 pages and speaks for it self.

edit on 17-12-2011 by intrptr because: further...

posted on Dec, 17 2011 @ 04:27 PM
If the GPS signals are jammed so that the drone can't receive any, what happens to the drone? Auto-pilot? Switch to radar guidance? Flight by sight? Crash? Circle flight pattern?

If the drone doesn't know where it is, how will the remote control pilots be able to tell it where to go or land? I guess visual satellite guidance would be needed to steer the drone, but that isn't always available due to cloud cover, storms, etc..

I think that jamming the GPS signals will be the way to "disable" all drones, missles, etc. Even if the GPS signals are encrypted, or are using trunking to jump transmission frequencies. Simply broadcast static on all frequencies to jam up the drone.

Further thinking about this, I gather an EMP pulse sent in the direction of the drone would be sufficient to down it. Sending a heat-seeking missle up would probably be easiest.

Iran (and others like Russia, China and North Korea) probably have EMP technology available.

Just thinking out loud....

ETA - They already sell GPS jamming equipment for the public. Use it to jam GPS tracking devices attached to cars by LEO's or concerned spouses.

edit on 17-12-2011 by EyesII because: (no reason given)

posted on Dec, 18 2011 @ 07:04 AM
A couple of things seems funny. They call it GPS-spoofing, which is possible, if you have very sophisticated equipment, BUT not very likely. From what I can surmise, it was plain and simple, GPS jamming, in which you use a high-power signal to jam the GPS-signals. I think it is plain incredible that the USA has made their drones so reliant on a single technology. That reminds me of another article on ATS in which a US-military aircraft had to make an emergency landing after its GPS has been jammed.

There are actually 2 types of GPS-systems using the same satellites, one is the normal, commercial GPS-systems, in which it is possible to spoof the GPS signals, but in some commercial GPS-receivers, a built-in algorithm compares the signal strength of the satellites, and if some signals are way too strong, like in spoofing, the receiver would actually mark the satellite as being suspicious, and ignore all data coming from the suspicious satellites. A high-power broadband signal in the GPS-band (1575.42 MHz), will overload the front-end, and making the system inoperable. The C/A codes (containing the empheresis of the satellite) on the L1 band, is unencrypted, so making it possible to be spoofed.

Military GPS's uses the L2 band (1227.60 MHz), and the data is very heavily encrypted, of which the codes is changed once a week, to avoid spoofing.

Therefore I believe that the GPS-receivers in the drone was just jammed, forcing the drone into a holding pattern, until its fuel ran out. I believe that it is plain idiocy to have a drone as sophisticated as the RQ-170 so reliant on GPS. Whatever happened to the TERCOM system that they could have used as a backup?

here are some links to explain GPS signals :


posted on Dec, 18 2011 @ 07:07 AM

Originally posted by EyesII

ETA - They already sell GPS jamming equipment for the public. Use it to jam GPS tracking devices attached to cars by LEO's or concerned spouses.

You can actually build your own GPS-jammer for a lot less than a 100 dollars ....

posted on Dec, 18 2011 @ 01:39 PM
reply to post by neformore

If it was an easy fix they would have fixed it years ago.

They've known about these weak points for years.

It really raises questions about the cruise missles we currently use, can they still be considered a weapon with a low risk of unintended deaths or damage?

posted on Dec, 18 2011 @ 09:03 PM
reply to post by Thundersmurf

Great on them to illegally hijack a drone operating legally in Afghanistan and pilot the drone into Iran to be captured? I say good on the US if the facility housing the drone explodes soon.

top topics


log in