The Iranian military recently managed to hijack an American stealth drone by exploiting a well-known navigational vulnerability in the RQ-170 Sentinel, aka The Beast of Kandahar.
According to an Iranian engineer, electronic warfare specialists cut off US contact with the drone before reconfiguring the Sentinel’s GPS coordinates and landing it in Iranian territory.
“The GPS navigation is the weakest point,” the engineer told the Christian Science Monitor.
“By putting noise [jamming] on the communications, you force the bird into autopilot. This is where the bird loses its brain.”
The “spoofing” technique, said the engineer, utilized precise latitudinal and longitudinal data, “forcing the drone to land on its own where we wanted it to, without having to crack the remote-control signals and communications,” from the US control center.
Former US Navy electronic warfare specialist Robert Densmore told the CS Monitor the digital hijacking scenario detailed by the unnamed Iranian engineer was entirely plausible.
“Even modern combat-grade GPS [is still] very susceptible to manipulation,” Densmore confirmed.
He also noted it was “certainly possible” to recalibrate the GPS on a drone so that it flies on a different course than originally programmed.
“[Obviously], I wouldn’t say it’s easy, but the technology is there.”