December 12th, 2013
06:00 AM ET

U.S. seeks spy edge with stealth drone

CNN Pentagon Correspondent Barbara Starr

It looks like a bat, sweeping, turning. But it’s actually the new super-secret Air Force stealth drone.

CNN has learned this unmanned spy plane is designed to fly for up to 24 hours behind enemy lines in countries like North Korea, Iran, and Syria.

Military sources tell CNN it will give the United States a critical stealth advantage to spy on countries that have strong air defense systems able to shoot down more conventional aircraft.

The drone, believed to be called the RQ-180, was first revealed by the magazine Aviation Week and Space Technology in a lengthy article co-authored by Amy Butler and Bill Sweetman, both long time experts in classified military stealth technology.

The program is so classified the Air Force would not confirm its existence to CNN or Aviation Week.

But several U.S. officials told CNN its capabilities are a top intelligence gathering priority– especially after a less sophisticated stealth drone went down in Iran in 2012.

The key, Butler said, is the drone’s ability to fly long distance and stay aloft for 24 hours in a stealthy manner.

"This aircraft will be able to penetrate that border and conduct operations in and around an enemy airspace without being targeted," Butler told CNN.

It’s so secret the drone is believed to be at a hangar at Area 51 - the Air Force's highly secure flight test center in Nevada.

The drone may be able to fly as high as 11 miles. The requirement for an asset that is stealthy, can fly at high altitude and conduct intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance is a crucial priority for the military and the intelligence community.

Plan for a new spy plan unveiled

In several countries, air defenses have improved significantly in recent years making it difficult if not impossible for U.S. assets to gather information.

The drone’s ability to stay up for 24 hours will also give it a key advantage over satellites which often pass by a target intermittently and are subject to be being detected.

Butler said the shape of the drone means enemy radars can't easily see the drone as heat it throws off is shielded so radars can’t pick it up.

“This aircraft is designed to evade both those thermal sensor, those radar sensors, and other sensors that look for aircraft.  So it might not be invisible to radar, but you might not be able to target it and shoot it down.”

Butler suggested the drone may even be able to carry sensors that can listen to cell phone calls and any “activities on enemy frequency, radar activities, that sort of thing.”

Although it’s not confirmed, the magazine suggested the drone could be operating as soon as 2015.

Navy launches stealth destroyer

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  62. Mark Rushing

    Just what right do we have to spy on other countries like this? How would any of you right-wing idiots feel if China did this to us? Not very good, I expect. Then again. we've been doing it since the 1950's with those U-2's and spy satellites of ours. We need to vote those right-wing idiots in Washington plum out of office!!!!!!!!

    December 14, 2013 at 1:43 pm | Reply
    • Eileen K.

      I agree, Mark. Why does the US have to spy on Allied countries the way it does? And, even more importantly, why does it have to spy on its own citizens? The NSA is totally out of control; and, now, this rogue agency's considering sharing citizens' private data with central banks? This is an abomination, along with sharing this data with IsraHell.

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    It now appears that this new disease called "affluenza" is effecting a lot of people these days. Just look at all the right-wing idiots here bragging about this new stealth drone of ours! It just got a 16 year old off the hook after he got drunk and ran over four people, killing then all!!!

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    If anyone in this country does not want to live here and be safe they can move to another country that is better with less restrictions say.....China ! If you don't support your country get the hell out.

    December 13, 2013 at 8:56 am | Reply
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      the funny thing is 90% of countries wouldnt take just some plain old american with no special skills because NOBODY LIKES US. i wonder why? probably because we are spying on everyone and acting like we rule the world. i hope you eat your patriotism when the Obama Regime starts their Fourth Reich. oh wait, they already have.

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      December 13, 2013 at 12:18 pm | Reply
  70. Peter

    If it has been say China only has it, US would be alarmed and threaten pre-emptive strikes.

    This clearly showed together with NSA spying , put US about the most dangerous country in the world.

    What gives US the right to fly any plane over another country?

    December 13, 2013 at 8:40 am | Reply
    • Mark Rushing

      Since you ask the questions of "what gives U.S. the right" perhaps you should pose that question to President Putin and the midget running North Korea. Since Obama took office China, North Korea and Russia have all violated our airspace and or our territorial coastal waters while gathering intelligence. Obama allowed a Russian "BOMBER" to overfly California and did nothing but kindly warn them. What gives them the right? The same thing that gives US the right. The best defense is a good offense. As for the US calling for a per-emptive strike if another country possessed a stealth drone, China already has one. You really should read something beside MSNBC once in a while.

      December 13, 2013 at 10:44 am | Reply
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      To answer you question Peter, we have no more right to fly these cursed drones of our over any other country any more than they have a right to do the same to us. Don't blame those who disagree with us, they're currently suffering from "affluenza"!!!

      December 13, 2013 at 12:11 pm | Reply
  71. Jim K.

    As a former Navy radar specialist, this "new" drone has probably been flying over the U.S. for a couple of years already gathering up our private info for the NSA's unlawful intelligence gathering program.

    December 13, 2013 at 7:06 am | Reply
    • Vegas82

      I'm not sure how being a radar specialist qualifies you to comment on NSA activities. And if you had knowledge of these stealth drones flying over the US through the course of your job I'd be surprised if you weren't in breach of contract by revealing classified information, which you imply you have knowledge of and are revealing. How about you calm down and stop trying to make yourself seem more knowledgeable because you stared at a radar screen for hours on end.

      December 13, 2013 at 8:18 am | Reply
      • Mark Rushing

        Well said...

        December 13, 2013 at 10:37 am |
  72. Rob MacGowan

    I'm sitting here shaking my head in disgust. I am ex Army and understand the reason why certain THINGS are secret. The fact that people feel the need to expose these secrets is beyond me. I blame two people... the first is the idiot who trys to uncover the secret (espionage) and the second is the other idiot who decides to publish the information. Swift and severe punishment should be handed down to those who are bent on exposing US secrets. Remember... we're not the only ones who read the new. Its a no brainer!

    December 13, 2013 at 7:00 am | Reply
    • Sam Grant

      Zieg Heil!

      December 13, 2013 at 7:50 am | Reply
    • Judge Jean Boyd of Texas

      Thank you, Rob. I'm with you all the way and I'm a judge to boot!!!!!!!! We reelly need to punish whoever let this secret out, really we do!

      December 13, 2013 at 8:10 am | Reply
    • bobhamiltonchicago

      Any information you see is almost certainly old news to the target, or misinformation released on purpose.

      December 13, 2013 at 8:20 am | Reply
    • bobhamiltonchicago

      I didn't see the picture of the plane in this article, but it was in Aviation Week. Of the very limited information revealed, none of it was accurate. it appears to have the radar cross section of a skinny mosquito, a negative thermal signature, and it's probably quieter than silence.

      December 13, 2013 at 8:35 am | Reply
    • Denverdriver

      You can bet that if the "news" has made it to CNN, the Russians and the Chinese have already known about it for some time. This machine has probably already been in use for a while. Maybe we'll get to see video of Kim Jung Un's uncle being executed.

      December 13, 2013 at 11:09 am | Reply
  73. darmon

    NEW.. in civilian terms, means it's been developed 10 years ago and operational for at least 5 by the militaary... you are so behind CNN.

    December 13, 2013 at 6:55 am | Reply
  74. ronvan

    IT'S "SUPER SECRET"? How hypocrital can we get? Sure not a secret anymore! WHY not just put it on display and invite our "friends & enemies" to take a look? Maybe we can post its filight plans & schedules on he web! STUPID!!

    December 13, 2013 at 6:43 am | Reply
  75. nc1965

    It's not "super-secret" any longer.

    December 13, 2013 at 6:40 am | Reply
  76. telekenisis

    Meanwhile more people in the US are on food stamps.Collapse of the Us economy is imminent.

    December 13, 2013 at 6:12 am | Reply
    • Hugh Knownothing

      1. Stop giving people who refuse to work food stamps.
      2. Collapse? What an ignorant statement.
      3. Lick my stealth

      December 13, 2013 at 6:21 am | Reply
    • fextraze

      it is being forced to collapse to control and enslave...with the US collapse... the whole world will collapse ..which will be reformed into one global currency by force...why else would these presidents go spending like crazy....spend it all before its worthless...they have no intention to pay back their debts...that is americas folly

      December 13, 2013 at 6:46 am | Reply
  77. Usor

    "Butler said the shape of the drone means enemy radars can't easily see the drone as heat it throws off is shielded so radars can’t pick it up.

    “This aircraft is designed to evade both those thermal sensor, those radar sensors, and other sensors that look for aircraft. So it might not be invisible to radar, but you might not be able to target it and shoot it down.”"...................... What unintelligble nonsense.

    December 13, 2013 at 5:29 am | Reply
    • farang

      “This aircraft is designed to evade both those thermal sensor, those radar sensors, and other sensors that look for aircraft. So it might not be invisible to radar, but you might not be able to target it and shoot it down.”"...................... What unintelligble nonsense."

      Unintelligble(sic) nonsense= military "intelligence."

      BTW dear readers: It is not at "Area 51." Trust me on this.

      December 13, 2013 at 10:39 am | Reply
    • JoeO

      Seriously – those supposed quotes make no sense whatsoever.

      December 13, 2013 at 12:21 pm | Reply
      • farang

        Then why don't you tell the commenter that posted them, genius?

        December 19, 2013 at 4:03 am |
  78. Leo

    Didn't we just get our hands slapped regarding the whole spy issue? Question is can it see underground? That will be the only safe place for privacy....for now.

    December 13, 2013 at 4:41 am | Reply
  79. timmy is always right

    "radars can't easily see the drone as heat it throws off is shielded so radars can’t pick it up"...

    someone needs a little lesson in how radars work...

    December 13, 2013 at 4:29 am | Reply
  80. Mark

    Imagine what our country would look like, feel like, if we had used all this money the last few decades to confront the vicious cycles of poverty and cycles of poor education.

    December 13, 2013 at 3:08 am | Reply
    • Justin

      You can't cure stupid. Not with any amount of money. Some people you could give a million dollars and they would still be poor again in a few months/years.

      December 13, 2013 at 3:44 am | Reply
    • SixDegrees

      Those are problems that money can't solve.

      And as far as education goes, it doesn't serve students well to harangue them about the importance of STEM education, then unleash them into a market with no technical jobs, because society is spending all its money on educational windmill tilts.

      December 13, 2013 at 5:25 am | Reply
    • fextraze

      i agree with these other two... i would also add ..since they teach of big bang...and that we came from apes... how can anyone rely on the present day education system to make the perfect world... even the so-called "educated" are not so bright anymore... as you can wont change it...but changing the core and foundations of the education to the truth...just maybe then there would be a better chance of an intelligent world...until that will just get worse... blind leading the blind

      December 13, 2013 at 6:16 am | Reply
      • Derply

        You are right. Education based on proven facts and well-supported theories gained through centuries of scientific discovery is the problem. It would be better to go back to teaching fiction. Delusion is the way to a perfect world.

        December 13, 2013 at 6:58 am |
      • Sam Grant

        "A World Lit Only by Fire" William Manchester

        December 13, 2013 at 7:55 am |
  81. steve rogers

    How long will it be before the government turns that thing against the citizens?

    December 13, 2013 at 1:53 am | Reply
    • anthj99

      20 minutes ago

      December 13, 2013 at 1:56 am | Reply
    • Nodack

      I'm sure there are at least ten flying over your house at all times.

      December 13, 2013 at 2:44 am | Reply
    • ScottCA

      Much longer in America than it would take in NK for the government to turn on its citizens. NK is already in that condition.

      December 13, 2013 at 3:01 am | Reply
    • Derply

      They don't need those in the US. They can already spy on you with the cameras and microphones of your home computer, cable TV box, cell phone, etc, anytime they want, and they view every comment you have EVER made online, and see everything you EVER looked at online. Makes flying drones kind of unnecessary.

      December 13, 2013 at 7:02 am | Reply
  82. Chris

    I'm not sure if people read much of the article but it appears to be just CNN hyping an article that was written by a magazine, yet people are treating this as CNN breaking a story.

    I hope those giant boomerangs are worth it because our military budget is bloated.

    December 13, 2013 at 1:47 am | Reply
    • fextraze

      its CNN ... liberal media to pursuade... not to inform.

      might as well throw in some gossip too...they are alot like entertainment tonight sometimes... more celeb trash than news.

      if you watch these guys closely you can see the real news is in small print hidden on the page and the shock and controversy is slapped in your face

      December 13, 2013 at 6:33 am | Reply
  83. P Boy

    I can't believe the size of the dump I just deposited in my neighbor's front yard.

    December 13, 2013 at 1:31 am | Reply
  84. MHM

    Ha! I love how all the comments are complaining that, "If it's so secret, why is CNN reporting it?" Remember that wave of triangular/boomerang shaped UFO sightings in the late 80's and early 90's that took place all over the world? Well, look at those images and then take a good long look at the image in this article. It's surprising how many people, with all their access to information online, are still unaware that our actual technological capabilities are about 15-20 years ahead of what's being publicly trotted out.

    December 13, 2013 at 12:20 am | Reply
  85. KC

    U.S. Has to be one of the only countries to just openly release sensitive equipment and capabilities to the world. CNN should be ashamed of publishing it.

    December 13, 2013 at 12:09 am | Reply
    • skoalbucs

      Agree....why do we tell everyone our secrets.

      Please CNN, give us a good reason.

      December 13, 2013 at 12:35 am | Reply
    • david be

      Yea cause China doesn't release images 'leaked' through official channels of their steal planes and other aircraft.. and Russia doesn't bring their new aircraft to airshows to show off their capabilities even though how its done is kept secret. ...oh wait. Yes they do.

      December 13, 2013 at 12:42 am | Reply
    • Been there

      These type of secrets are never discover by accident. They are leaked on purpose. My take is we want to scare our enemies a bit. Don't worry the real secret tech is well hidden.

      December 13, 2013 at 1:34 am | Reply
  86. TheSadTruth

    Wonderful. Now can we just go back to using drones for surveillance instead of offense? The latest drone strike debacle shows ONCE AGAIN that drones shouldn't replace actual pilots in making kills.

    December 12, 2013 at 11:59 pm | Reply
    • KC

      Whats the difference? There's still a person operating the machine.

      December 13, 2013 at 12:06 am | Reply
    • johngalt

      you do realize that drones have someone piloting them, right?

      December 13, 2013 at 12:06 am | Reply
  87. Furious Styles

    WOW...what a great way to sell more magazines.

    December 12, 2013 at 11:48 pm | Reply
  88. aurelius

    Yeah, it's so secret that CNN can't wait to reveal it to the world. Then we blame the Russians or Chinese for wanting to get a piece of it. Makes perfect sense.

    December 12, 2013 at 11:28 pm | Reply
  89. Tom Ee

    “CNN has learned this unmanned spy plane is designed to fly for up to 24 hours behind enemy lines in countries like North Korea, Iran, and Syria.“
    Russia and China are excluded? Don't you believe it.
    Why should the secrecy of this super drone be diluted by revealing so much information about it?
    It can also be used effectively to spy on friends and allies, of course.

    December 12, 2013 at 11:23 pm | Reply
  90. thinker1958

    why is CNN publishing super secrets stuff? isn't this worst than what Snowden did?

    December 12, 2013 at 11:18 pm | Reply
  91. CaesarXIII

    It's so super hush hush secret. CNN has the story for it.

    December 12, 2013 at 11:01 pm | Reply
  92. Dan

    This is not good, and anybody that has a mind that functions properly should understand that drones need to be put on hold , while a group of us Americans that are all in this, reviews the complete drone and spying that is being used here, and abroad.if they are left unchecked, you will be seeing that happen here. What comes around , will go around. Will see how you feel about it then.

    December 12, 2013 at 10:54 pm | Reply
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