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Israeli Drone Leased to German Army in Afghanistan Hacked and Crashed

German-leased Israeli Heron drone at Mazar i Sharif airport (DPA)

The German army has operated three Israeli-leased Heron drones in Afghanistan for reconnaissance purposes.  Two of the drones crashed in 2010.  One, on its first flight, when it crashed into a military transport plane on landing.  The second drone had engine failure.  The most recent drone failure occurred (Google translation from German) at Mazar i Sharif.  This time the UAV crashed into a mountain.  Because the area was so remote,  a U.S. F-16 was dispatched to destroy the vehicle so that it didn’t fall into enemy hands.

The overall value of the lease with Israel Aircraft Industries, maker of the Heron, was over $150-million; and the value of the lost drone was about $7.5-million.

My Israeli source reports that the most recent loss was the result of the navigation system being hacked.  He tells me hacking is “strongly suspected” as the cause.  He doesn’t know who hacked the controls, but it would seem most likely to be the Taliban or whatever insurgent forces operate in northern Afghanistan.  The expertise for hacking the Israeli drones appears most likely to derive from Iran.  Though that country has been much more involved in affairs in Iraq than Afghanistan, Iran does share a border with northwestern Afghanistan.  It is conceivable that the technical know-how for the hack was conveyed to a Taliban group in the north of the country (where Mazar i Sharif is located).

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{ 22 comments… add one }
  • Joe Black November 12, 2013, 10:53 PM

    Your source, is not extremely accurate, probably deliberately, And you didn’t conduct a through research.
    From a simple google research one can learn:
    1. The first incident (the one at which the UAV crashed into a C-160 transport plane) took place on march 16 2010 while the UAV was taxing on the runway not in mid air.
    2. According to the newly-declassified report, the pilot was just out of training, accidentally engaged the autostart program and could not turn it off in time.

    after reading that, i thought that checking the facts concerning the other two incidents listed is simply a waste of time.

    This story was published in Gizmodo lat may which indicated that your source has highly classified sources.

    • Richard Silverstein November 13, 2013, 1:42 AM

      @ Joe Black: Reading comprehension is not your strong suit. I never said that the first two crashes involved hacking. I said the most recent one did. My scoop has nothing to do with the first two crashes which happened in 2010. It has to do with the last one which just occurred. The Gizmodo story involved a 2010 crash.

      • Joe Black November 13, 2013, 6:14 AM

        @ RS
        1. Your response has nothing to do with my reply – read again
        2. You stated based on classified information from a high level source that “One, on its first flight, when it crashed into a military transport plane on landing”
        3. In Hebrew we say on your statement above “לא דובים ולא זבובים” meaning the claim is false and unfounded.
        4. To learn about what happened : Read Gizmodo (there is a video as well)
        5. If your source’s first claim is flat out wrong, chances are that other claims he made for which he provided no proof is wrong as well… In other words what proof do you have to back your claim ?

        • Richard Silverstein November 13, 2013, 2:25 PM

          @ Joe Black: That’s absolutely NOT what I wrote. Here is what I actually wrote:

          My Israeli source reports that the most recent loss was the result of the navigation system being hacked.

          Do you understand what “the most recent loss” means? It means the drone that crashed in recent days, not any drones that crashed in 2010. Please stop wasting my time through careless reading of my post.

          My source is not “flat out wrong.” You are.

  • Ya choe November 12, 2013, 11:25 PM

    NY National guard had a Reaper drone crash into Lake Ontario today.
    This is the second Reaper lost this year.

    America flies a lot of different drones. I wonder how many crashed this year?

    The Americans have had so many problems landing drones at the main Djbutie air base they actualy built a separate base some distance away so as not to interfere with other aircraft.

    Must be that the RCMP has hacked te navigation system on the Reaper. They didn’t want it to cross the lake and engage the CN tower.

    BTW both the United States and Israel have lost a number of F-16s in the last two years. I am confident that their systems were hacked as well.

    • Richard Silverstein November 13, 2013, 1:39 AM

      @ Ya choe: Flippancy and snark are not only not funny, they violate the comment rules. If you have something substantive to say, say it. If your comment is largely snark, spare us.

  • Pip November 13, 2013, 2:26 AM

    Consider the likelihood that unsophisticated Taliban hackers would be in a remote part of Afghanistan at just the right time to intercept and crash a drone aircraft.

    Your ‘source ‘, and I’d love to know how he concludes a hacking incident, sounds quite bogus.

    • Richard Silverstein November 13, 2013, 8:14 PM

      @ Pip: I wouldn’t expect an ignoramus ideologue like you to attribute any value to my source. How do you know the Taliban are “unsophisticated hackers?” Given Iranian expertise in the matter they wouldn’t be unsophisticated at all. As for this being a “remote” region of Afghanistan, they live there. It’s not remote for them. Nor do you know how far the signal of the hacking entity might travel. It could be located miles away. Drones usually travel quite slowly and can be tracked, especially if the drone’s pilot doesn’t expect they might be hacked.

      • Pip November 13, 2013, 9:03 PM

        Last time I heard, the Taliban and Iran were sworn enemies, which would make that exchange of technologies that much more unlikely.

        This is mountainous region, geographically resembling Colorado, and yes, it is a remote region with few roads. Also, I don’t believe the Taliban are especially active in the Mazar al Sharif region, which was the heart of the ‘Northern Alliance’.

        What exactly is it that suggests to your ‘source’ that this was a hacking.
        We’ve yet to hear.

        • Richard Silverstein November 14, 2013, 2:36 AM

          @ Pip: Sorry, but there are Taliban groups active in the region. I researched this via a Google search. I bet you didn’t even do that yourself. You might try next time.

          And those who oppose the presence of western troops in Afghanistan live in this “remote” place and would find it very possible to get close enough to a drone to hack it, regardless of whether they were in mountainous terrain or anywhere else in the region.

          Hey in case you didn’t know, it’s not my job or obligation to tell you any more than I have about this story. If that’s not enough for you, go back to the Jerusalem Post or wherever you get your right wing slant on Israeli news.

  • mehdi November 13, 2013, 3:01 AM

    The question is: why would Iran care about what happens to German drones? Does Iran want to make Germany into its enemy?

    • Richard Silverstein November 13, 2013, 8:09 PM

      Germany is an ally of the U.S. in the draconian sanctions regime. Plus Germany is part of the contingent occupying Afghanistan. But I think Germany is collateral damage here. If Iran is involved it’s because it wishes to embarrass Israel every chance it gets including this one in Afghanistan.

      • Pip November 13, 2013, 9:06 PM

        Richard.
        I think it is you that wishes to embarrass Israel every chance you get.

        • Tom November 14, 2013, 3:17 PM

          I think its pretty embarrassing for Isreal in any case to
          loose 1 of its US funded drones to a bunch of cave dwelling Taliban
          LOL ….. Even more so for them if it was indeed Iran who crashed
          the last one. Shame

  • pabelmont November 13, 2013, 7:21 AM

    Ya choe: you have a point. It may well be that drones (and even manned aircraft) are (for the moment) rather accident-prone (or badly made, or subject to operational defects, or whatever). Since nations who fly drones are unlikely to say (in public) that someone else destroyed their drones, their denials and explanations are of little value to the public.

    So we may well imagine “hacking” as a possibility, if far from a certainty.

    What amazes me is that the have been ANY stories about drones being “hacked” whether to crash them, to divert them, or to land them. Apart from self-congratulatory stories from the supposed “hackers” that is, and these would also be very hard to credit. Unless the drone was made to land, was seen to have landed, and was seen to be in “one piece”. That’d be something else.

    What I mean is this: there are many radio frequencies, many message encoding schemes, so that for a “hacker” to send a direction to a drone-in-the-air, the “hacker” would need to know (or discover) three things: one or more frequencies, one or more encoding schemes, and the particular operational message (such as “self-destruct”, “turn a bit left”, or “land”).

    I don’t know how “hackers” could ever do all three of these things unaided. Of course, they could easily do all these things if given enough 9nformation by people in-the-know. That’s not so much “hacking” as “espionage”.

  • Ari Greenfield November 13, 2013, 8:55 AM

    Here is an interesting report from the British MoD released last Feb. on the number of British drone crashes in Iraq and Afghanistan b/w 2007-2012. Nearly 450 total drones crashed in that time period. A vast majority, 412, are the smaller, handheld or movable vehicle launched devices similar to the type of drone that crashed in Gaza two weeks ago. One US made Reaper and 9 Israeli made Hermes 450 account for a majority of the large UAV (physically speaking) losses.

    If nothing else, this report provides a bit context for analyzing and understanding drone losses. It seems to imply the most likely cause of drone loss is pilot error and shows the loss of larger UAVs remains a somewhat rare event but does happen at least 2-3 times per year.

    http://www.theguardian.com/uk/2013/feb/12/450-british-military-drones-lost

  • pabelmont November 13, 2013, 12:31 PM

    The huge level of losses (I should say it seems huge to me — maybe it’s routine and acceptable losses to militaries) shows that these militaries have seen how to CONTINUE PROFITS TO M/I/C whilst reducing loss-of-good-guy-lives-in-combat. Americans, Israelis, etc.. keep churning out money for these expendables.

    And of course the lives of the “enemies” (I prefer to call them “victims”) are obviously expendable. That, after all, is the whole point.

    Now if we’d only learn to dig a BIG HOLE in the Nevada desert, dump in 100 or 1000 drones, adn then cover them up with dirt, we’d still need to MANUFACTURE these EXPENDABLES, but would not need to kill so many victims. M/I/C would be placated. ORWELL would be pleased by this reversal (Peace is War).

  • RD Sultan November 13, 2013, 7:00 PM

    I’m not convinced the Taliban was behind the hack as the group is concentrated in Southern and Eastern Afghanistan.

    It may have been The Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (a group aligned with the Taliban) or it could have been the Karzai backed National Islamic Movement of Afghanistan.

    I think it was the latter given that Mazar i Sharif is a city where the movement enjoys autonomy and power.

    • Richard Silverstein November 13, 2013, 8:18 PM

      @ RD Sultan: It’s quite possible it was another Islamist group and not the Taliban, as you say. My source didn’t specifically say it was the Taliban.

  • RD Sultan November 14, 2013, 4:48 AM

    @Pip: “Last time I heard, the Taliban and Iran were sworn
    enemies, which would make that exchange of technologies that much
    more unlikely.” Haven’t you heard of the old adage “the enemy of my
    enemy is my friend?”
    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/middleeast/iran/9444402/Taliban-opens-office-in-Iran.html

    • Pip November 15, 2013, 10:56 AM

      Interesting. But improbable.

      All Quds has to do in order to put a well-timed scare into Uncle Sam is to let one Talib open an office in a remote town and than chatter disinformation about an offer of missiles knowing full well that the NSA is listening in.

  • RD Sultan November 14, 2013, 4:52 AM

    @RS: I forgot to add that the National Islamic Movement of
    Afghanistan was one of the parties that made up the “Northern
    Alliance.” Iran does have a small footprint in the city so it’s
    quite possible whomever hacked the drone did so by order of
    Iran.

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