To be honest, I don't know how this thing flys either...
The story really begins back in March of 2009 when U.S. aircraft in Iraq shot down an Iranian UAV. Don't worry Big Army, I didn't divulge any secrets. There's even a sentence in the above link about it, see:
In March 2009, U.S. military officials said U.S. fighter jets in Iraq shot down
an unmanned Iranian spy drone aircraft.
Now, because this is a blog detailing the happenings in whatever corner of the world 1-14 CAV is, I'll give you one guess as to where in Iraq that UAV was shot down near. Here's a hint, it was right outside of a base named after a snake.
Right now there are some people on FOB Diamondback saying "WTF?"
Now of course this incident occurred before 1-14 CAV arrived to COP Cobra or even knew that we were headed to the Diyala Province. We were conducting training in Yakima at the time and were still expecting to deploy to the northern Baghdad belt and station out of Camp Taji. Still, it sets up what would occur several months down the road when we showed up.
It began with some odd reports from the QRF (Quick Reaction Force) platoon of some kind of aircraft or lights circling the base. The QRF is essentially the squadron reserve force, a platoon of Strykers on standby in case of some kind of incident or emergency. Most of the time they are used to escort the wrecker (military tow truck) to a site where one of our vehicles has broken down or blown a tire. The soldiers on the QRF would often be sitting around doing what soldiers do but on occasion there may be 1 or 2 soldiers who are actually staring up at the sky looking at whatever. It would be these soldiers who would notice the lights.
Aircraft are not uncommon in the sky around Cobra. At almost any given time one can look up at night and see lights from something, usually aircraft flying from somewhere north headed to somewhere south. You may even notice the lights from one of our UAVs if the operator hasn't bothered to turn them off. However, an aircraft circling the base, or appearing to circle the base, is very unusual.
The initial reports were generally ignored. When I was told about them I filed them away in the back my mind as "that's interesting/odd but I have a major yelling at me for not typing out ASR Titans in all caps, I have other things to worry about".
I got all spun up when QRF reported some kind of aircraft flew right over the base. It was at that point I knew we had something that wasn't ours flying around watching us. The NCO who reported the incident told me that they saw 3 lights, 1 blue and 2 green, fly right over them at 100-200 feet and made a kind of lawnmower noise...a UAV.
The squadron commander was informed, brigade was informed, a report was sent to both the brigade operations and intelligence sections. I showed pictures of different types of UAVs to the 2 soldiers who witnessed the aircraft and they pointed directly at the craft developed by our friendly neighbors to the east.
Things were fairly dull attack-wise at this point in the battlespace so this "unidentified aircraft" situation created a bit of a buzz amongst the crew at Cobra. Even the squadron commander seemed intrigued. Everytime a new QRF rotated they were briefed on the UFO situation and told to immediately call the TOC. The special forces team on the base also became interested and told us that not only was it not their aircraft, but that they had a mini-gun pointed up at all times just so they could attempt to shoot whatever this was down if they got the chance. The Division Commander came in one day for an Operations and Intelligence brief on the area of operations and the squadron commander mentioned our UFO to him. MG Cucolo told us to shoot it down.
On the night of September 28, I witnessed something strange glide over Cobra. Both myself and the acting C Troop commander were walking back from the Iraqi Army compound when we both saw something in the sky. The only way I can describe it was that it looked like two diamonds floating overhead. It made no noise at all. At first I thought I was seeing things but asked Mark, "do you see that?!" who indeed was seeing what I was seeing.
The entire situation would nearly become kinetic a couple of weeks later when the TOC received word from QRF that there was once again, something flying around the COP. This time, we managed to get our base defense camera on it and film the aircraft for several minutes. The next night at nearly the same time the aircraft appeared again. By the third night we were prepared. QRF called in that they spotted the craft, the TOC got a visual with the camera, and then we did the only logical thing...called brigade and asked for air support.
Within minutes we had two Apache helicopters armed with hellfire missiles in the area looking for the aircraft. They managed to get eyes on but quickly told us the aircraft was too high to attempt to shoot down. Brigade then called up Division and informed them of the situation. The division commander gave the go ahead and two F-16s headed our way to finish this.
And then Corps got on the line to Division and told them to back off, the aircraft was friendly.
I believe we had, at different times, three different aircraft in the area. The one we nearly shot down was most likely indeed a friendly aircraft, even though we had no idea they were in the area. The craft with three lights flying directly over the base...I suspect Iran.
But what about the super stealthy nearly-all-black thing that made no noise? I have three theories:
1) Also Iranian...most likely a glider of some kind being flown from some place nearby.
2) Those pesky insurgents. It doesn't take much to get a model airplane and stick a camera to it. Fly it over the American base and pray like crazy they don't see it. This would be an excellent way to determine base defenses, vulnerabilities, or just how many vehicles are on the base. Only thing is, it was night time and night vision devices are expensive. Why not use that money for more weapons?
3) The Peshmerga. This was a time before we had a platoon of Peshmerga on the base with us. The Kurds would be interested in determining if there was any increase or decrease in the size of any Iraqi Army units in the area and their capabilities. Hell, they may even have been checking us out as well.
That was pretty much it for the Cobra UFOs. After the near shootdown we didn't have any more unidentified aircraft that I was aware of, although I kept my eyes on the sky as much as possible at night. The incidents are just one of several mysteries of the area that I likely will never get an answer to, but they make a pretty good story.
Update: Wired's Danger Room blog has a good article about the new Iranian drone.