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Iran claims US drone capture; Navy denies loss

Published on NewsOK Modified: December 4, 2012 at 12:32 pm •  Published: December 4, 2012
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Al-Alam, the Iranian state TV's Arabic-language channel, showed two Guard commanders examining what appeared to be a ScanEagle drone with no visible damage or military markings on its gray fuselage or wings.

The semiofficial Fars news agency, which is close to the Guard, said it was the captured drone, a propeller-driven craft with a 10-foot (three-meter) wingspan that's sent aloft from a pneumatic launcher from even a small vessel — undermining Iranian claims that it needs a warship to be deployed.

The drone, built by Boeing subsidiary Insitu Inc., typically would have no high-value intelligence and is used mostly for aerial photographs and video.

"With a ScanEagle, you just throw it off your boat to have a look over the horizon. It's not, like, a major system," said aviation expert Paul E. Eden. "In military chest-beating terms, the U.S. is likely to just laugh at the Iranians for making so much of having captured one."

Eden also expressed skepticism that the ScanEagle could have been shot down, calling it akin to a "large seagull" because it's slow and very small, making it a tricky target.

"If you did hit it with any anti-aircraft weapons, there wouldn't be much left," said Huw Williams, a drone expert at Jane's International Defense Review.

In the Iranian TV footage, the two men then point to a huge map of the Persian Gulf in the background, showing the drone's alleged path of entry into Iranian airspace. "We shall trample on the U.S.," was printed over the map in Farsi and English next to the Guard's emblem.

If true, the seizure of the drone would be the third reported incident involving Iran and U.S. drones in the past two years.

Last month, Iran claimed that a U.S. drone had violated its airspace. The Pentagon said the unmanned aircraft came under fire — at least twice but was not hit — and that the Predator was over international waters.

The Nov. 1 shooting in the Gulf was unprecedented, and further escalated tensions between the United States and Iran, which is under international sanctions over its suspect nuclear program. Tehran denies it's pursuing a nuclear weapon and insists its program is for peaceful purposes only.

In late 2011, Iran claimed it brought down a CIA spy drone after it entered Iranian airspace from its eastern borders with Afghanistan and Pakistan. The RQ-170 Sentinel drone, which is equipped with stealth technology, was captured almost intact. Tehran later said it recovered data from the drone.

In the case of the Sentinel, after initially saying only that a drone had been lost near the Afghan-Iran border, American officials eventually confirmed it had been monitoring Iran's military and nuclear facilities. Washington asked for it back but Iran refused, and instead released photos of Iranian officials studying the aircraft.

Iran meanwhile, has claimed advancements in drone technology.

In November, Iranian media reported that the country had produced a domestically made drone capable of hovering. Earlier, Iran said it obtained images of sensitive Israeli bases taken by a drone that was launched by Lebanon's Hezbollah and downed by Israel.

Iran also claimed other drones made dozens of apparently undetected flights into Israeli airspace from Lebanon in recent years. Israel has rejected the Iranian assertions.

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Murphy reported from Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Associated Press writers Cassandra Vinograd in London and Julie Pace in Washington contributed to this report.