USAF discloses recent RQ-170 deployment

Rather surprisingly, the USAF's Air Combat Command has officially disclosed its deployment of Lockheed Martin's stealthy RQ-170 Sentinel unmanned air vehicle during the last six months.

The unexpected revelation came during a visit to Creech Air Force Base (AFB), Nevada, by Gen Mark Kelly, the commander of the USAF's ACC, and ACC Command Chief Master Sgt David Wade on March 9.

RQ-170 [
The secretive RQ-170 Sentinel taxiing at Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan. After being first sighted operating from there in 2007, it was famously dubbed the ‘Beast of Kandahar.’ The type was also involved in monitoring the assault on the compound in Pakistan on May 2, 2011, which resulted in the death of Osama bin Laden. The number currently in service is unconfirmed, but reports suggest that between 20 and 30 are operational. Key Archive

A press release from the 432nd Wing/432nd Air Expeditionary Wing (AEW) at Creech on the same day confirmed that since Kelly’s last visit to the base in October 2020, the 432nd AEW “had successfully deployed and redeployed RQ-170 Sentinel forces.” Col Stephen Jones, 432nd Wing/432nd AEW commander, said: “The wide array of mission sets the MQ-9 and RQ-170 are asked to perform remains our hallmark.”

No further information was provided. The release gave no indication as to when and where the RQ-170 had been deployed or for how long. As far as AFM is aware, this is the first time ever there has been any official public announcement regarding operational deployment of the RQ-170. The only recent official mention of the type was in a press release on August 6 last year from the 53rd Wing at Nellis AFB, Nevada, which revealed it had been flown by the 44th Reconnaissance Squadron (RS) as part of a Large Force Test Event on August 4-6, organised by the Nellis-based 53rd Test and Evaluation Group.

The type is flown operationally by two subordinate units of the 432nd Wing/432nd AEW’s 732nd Operations Group – the 30th and 44th RS. In one infamous incident, an RQ-170 was captured almost intact by Iran’s armed forces and subsequently used by them for publicity purposes after it force-landed in the country on December 4, 2011.