US Navy denies Iran's drone capture claims

Tehran claimed it downed a US ScanEagle drone that violated its airspace over the Persian Gulf,

December 4, 2012 18:35
4 minute read.
US Navy RQ-4 Global Hawk drone [file photo]

US Navy RQ-4 Global Hawk drone 370 (R). (photo credit: Reuters / Handout)


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The US Navy denied claims made by Tehran on Tuesday that Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps had captured one of its spy drones over the Persian Gulf.

R.-Adm. Ali Fadavi, the commander of the Revolutionary Guard Corps naval forces, said the drone had been intercepted after it violated Iranian airspace, according to Sepah News, the Guards’ official news site.

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Fadavi made his announcement on the anniversary of Iran’s downing of a US stealthy RQ-170 Sentinel drone in December 2011.

The Revolutionary Guard Corps naval commander said the recently captured drone was a US ScanEagle robot that had conducted ISR (Intelligence, Surveillance, Reconnaissance) missions over Kharg Island in the Persian Gulf.

When it entered Iranian airspace, the Revolutionary Guard Navy’s defense and control units tracked and intercepted it, Fadavi claimed.

Kharg Island, some 25 km. off Iran’s coast, is the site of a major petroleum refinery and a naval base.

In response to Iran’s claims, the US Navy denied losing a drone.

Cmdr. Jason Salata, a spokesman for the US Navy’s Fifth Fleet in Bahrain, said that ScanEagles had been “lost into the water” in the past, but that there was no record of any recent losses, the Navy Times reported.

“The US Navy has fully accounted for all unmanned air vehicles operating in the Middle East region,” Salata said. “Our operations in the Gulf are confined to internationally recognized waters and airspace.”

The ScanEagle is a tiny, high endurance drone built by America’s Insitu, Inc, a subsidiary of Boeing. The drone can stay in flight for over 20 hours and can send realtime video streams to operators with a range of around 100 km.

They are used for a variety of naval operations and can be launched from a warship.

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If Iran’s report of capturing the drone is true, it indicates that the US could be using multiple types of drone to carrying out ISR missions over Iran’s western and eastern coasts, and that Iran is capable of intercepting, downing and retrieving them.

Fadavi’s announcement was reported across Iran’s state media, with several Revolutionary Guard-affiliated sites running detailed stories about the alleged drone capture.

Iran’s Fars News, which is closely affiliated with the Revolutionary Guard Corps, published photographs of what it claimed was the drone, which had been hung above a map of the Persian Gulf, above which is a sign that quotes the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in Persian and English: “We shall trample on the US.” Affixed to the drone is a card containing the Revolutionary Guard logo.

Iran also released footage to several of its state-controlled media outlets, including Al- Alam in Arabic and Press TV in English, showing two Revolutionary Guard commanders examining an apparently undamaged ScanEagle drone.

Fadavi’s decision to publicly announce the drone capture on Tuesday was not a coincidence.

The announcement came on the anniversary of the downing of a US RQ-170 Sentinel reconnaissance drone over the Iranian city of Kashmar, around 225 km. from the border with Afghanistan.

Last week, Revolutionary Guard Aerospace Division commander Brig.-Gen. Amir- Ali Hajizadeh said that Iran planned to unveil more information from the RQ-170 to commemorate the first anniversary of its downing.

Iran saw the downing of the RQ-170 as a great victory over the US, and has made much of the incident, even displaying a replica of the drone at a rally in Tehran last year, above a banner that read in Persian: “Israel will be wiped off the scene.”

Over the past year the Revolutionary Guard Corps has also made several claims to have decoded the radar-evading technology in the RQ-170, and to have reverse-engineered technologies from the drone.

Iran has failed, however, to provide any real evidence to back up these claims.

Fadavi’s announcement also comes a day after the US officials announced, through The Washington Post, that the Pentagon has stepped up spying operations on Iran’s Bushehr nuclear reactor in the past two months, in response to concerns about the security of weapons-grade plutonium. The new operations yielded images and audio communications from Bushehr, the officials said.

The Revolutionary Guard’s move also comes after the US announced on November 8 that Iranian Su-25 jets had fired but failed to hit a MQ-1 Predator drone as it flew in international airspace in the Persian Gulf a week earlier.

Tehran later said in response that the Predator drone had violated Iranian airspace, and suggested that it had been conducting surveillance over the Bushehr nuclear reactor on Iran’s southwest coast.

There appeared, however, to be some disagreement within the Iranian regime over why it allowed Washington to gain the upper hand by announcing the Predator incident first, an unusual move given Iran’s later boasts that its jets had managed to chase the drone away. Mashregh News, which is closely affiliated by the Revolutionary Guard, hinted after the incident that Iran should have moved to report the incident immediately after it happened.

Some days after Washington announced the Predator incident, Iran filed a formal complaint to the UN, accusing the US Navy of repeatedly violating its airspace with drone flights.

The US says that its surveillance is carried out in international airspace. The recognized limit for international airspace in the Persian Gulf is 12 nautical miles, or 22.224 km.

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