Stealth drones used to watch over bin Laden

Lockheed Martin RQ-170 SentinelImage via Wikipedia
Washington Post:

The CIA employed sophisticated new stealth drone aircraft to fly dozens of secret missions deep into Pakistani airspace and monitor the compound where Osama bin Laden was killed, current and former U.S. officials said.

Using unmanned planes designed to evade radar detection and operate at high altitudes, the agency conducted clandestine flights over the compound for months before the May 2 assault in an effort to capture high-resolution video that satellites could not provide.

The aircraft allowed the CIA to glide undetected beyond the boundaries that Pakistan has long imposed on other U.S. drones, including the Predators and Reapers that routinely carry out strikes against militants near the border with Afghanistan.

The agency turned to the new stealth aircraft “because they needed to see more about what was going on” than other surveillance platforms allowed, said a former U.S. official familiar with the details of the operation. “It’s not like you can just park a Predator overhead — the Pakistanis would know,” added the former official, who, like others interviewed, spoke on the condition of anonymity, citing the sensitivity of the program.

The monitoring effort also involved satellites, eavesdropping equipment and CIA operatives based at a safe house in Abbottabad, the city where bin Laden was found. The agency declined to comment for this article.

...

In 2009, the Air Force acknowledged the existence of a stealth drone, a Lockheed Martin model known as the RQ-170 Sentinel, two years after it was spotted at an airfield in Kandahar, Afghanistan. The aircraft bears the distinct, bat-winged shape of larger stealth warplanes. The operational use of the drones has never been described by official sources.

...

The stealth drones were used on the night of the raid, providing imagery that President Obama and members of his national security team appear in photographs to have been watching as U.S. Navy SEALs descended on the compound shortly after 1 a.m. in Pakistan. The drones are also equipped to eavesdrop on electronic transmissions, enabling U.S. officials to monitor the Pakistani response.

...
The aircraft has been around for awhile without much of a mission before the bin Laden operation.  I suspect it was not its first flight over Pakistan or its last.  As long as there are questions of trust in the Pakistan military-intelligence operations, there will probably be a need for this aircraft.

It does look a little like the Navy's stealth drone which is undergoing some testing right now.
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