Continued from page 1

In the past, RQ-170s have carried active phased-array radar - a next-generation radar that allows one to use radar while staying stealthy, Mr. Singer said.

It also has carried full-motion video sensors and other sensors that can detect material composition or radioactive traces.

The RQ-170 is not fitted with a weapons platform, like the Predator and Reaper drones, which have been used to launch deadly airstrikes on insurgents in Pakistan’s North Warizistan and elsewhere.

There are some limitations as to what Iran and others could learn from the captured RQ-170, according to Reza Marashi, research director for the National Iranian American Council.

The RQ-170 is now a few years old, and no longer represents the best of U.S. technology, he said. “This wasn’t our best drone, but it wasn’t anywhere near our worst.”

Even with assistance from China and Russia, Iran would find the drone hard to replicate, said Edward Walby, a business director for U.S. defense technology firm Northrop Grumman.

“If your grandmother bakes you a really good chocolate cake and gives you the recipe, it’s how you put it together that matters, how you use it, what are your techniques, knowledge and experience,” said Mr. Walby, a retired Air Force colonel who commanded the first squadron of drones in the Afghanistan war.

But there are also political consequences from the lost drone.

For instance, Iran can give China and Russia access to the drone in exchange for their support against punitive actions over its nuclear program.

Talks between Iran and the permanent members of the U.N. Security Council and Germany are expected to resume soon, and China and Russia wield veto power in the council.

Overall, experts say the lost drone is more of an embarrassment than a game changer.

“We’re the equivalent of the guy from Apple that left the iPhone in the bar,” Mr. Singer said. “It didn’t destroy Apple or the iPhone, but it made it a lot easier for everybody else to understand what this thing is, and maybe even do their own knockoffs.”