News / Middle East

Iran Claims Capture of US Drone

A Scan Eagle unmanned aerial vehicle launches from the flight deck of an amphibious assault ship. (File)
A Scan Eagle unmanned aerial vehicle launches from the flight deck of an amphibious assault ship. (File)
Sean Maroney
The U.S. government is disputing Iran's claims that it has captured an American spy drone in its airspace over the Persian Gulf.  
Iranian state television showed images Tuesday of uniformed officers examining what Tehran claims is a U.S. intelligence drone it recently captured in its airspace. 
In the background of the video is a map showing the Persian Gulf region with the words "we shall trample on the U.S." printed over it.
A U.S. Navy Central Command spokeswoman says that its drones only operate in international airspace and that none of them is missing in the region.  White House officials also said they do not have any evidence that Iran's claims are true.

This is the second alleged U.S. spy drone Iranian officials say they have captured. 

A year ago, the Iranian government released video showing a more sophisticated RQ-170 Sentinel that Iranians said they brought down over the eastern part of the country.  This time, they say, they have the ScanEagle, a smaller drone that weighs less than 20 kilograms, has a wingspan of only three meters and usually is outfitted with a camera.

The ScanEagle Drone

  • 1.3 meters long with a 3-meter wing span
  • Weighs 13.1 kilograms
  • Maximum Speed is 41 meters per second
  • Cruise speed is 25 meters per second
  • Launched via catapult from land or ship
  • Can fly more than 24 hours

Source: Insitu/Boeing
Caitlin Lee is a military aviation correspondent for the IHS Jane's Information Group.  She says several countries possess the ScanEagle, so it is possible that it might not be U.S.-operated.  However, Lee does not believe possessing it has much technological value for Tehran.
"The ScanEagle, compared to the RQ-170, the ScanEagle is, I don't want to say less sophisticated, but it doesn't have some of the same features.  So the ScanEagle has been around for a while, it doesn't have stealth characteristics and it's a little bit more of a simple airframe," she said. 
Justin Logan is the director of foreign policy studies at the CATO Institute.  He says Iran's value for the drone is more for psychological warfare, especially with Tehran claiming that it is Washington's.
"Obviously, the Iranian economy is in a bad place, so they always want to highlight the external enemy to shore up their legitimacy, so they can say, 'We're successfully defending Iranian sovereignty, Iranian airspace.'  They can try to send a signal to those flying drones near or conceivably even in Iranian airspace, that they are capable of bringing one down," he said. 
Logan says this type of military action is not extreme enough to be considered an act of war.
"The drone is comparatively low risk because you're not putting a pilot's life at risk, you're not putting as much cost at risk.  But the flip side of that low cost is that there's a low cost for those who would seek to interdict drones.  If the Iranians were to shoot down an American drone, it would be something fundamentally different than shooting down an American-manned aircraft," he said. 
Last month, the Pentagon said one of its drones came under Iranian fire in the Persian Gulf, but did not suffer any damage.
Iran is at odds with the West as it is under strict international sanctions and closely watched regarding its controversial nuclear program.  Western powers suspect Iran is trying to develop nuclear weapons, while Tehran insists its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes. 

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Comment Sorting
by: Saeid from: Malaysia
December 05, 2012 12:50 AM
I am so surprised about truth why US army missed such hitech drone so easily and now Iranians ask US to count again the numbers of US drones in Persian Gulf.

by: Jonathan Huang from: canada
December 04, 2012 6:03 PM
@JFK, from ottawa. There are two scenarios, a, NATO has installed baromethric and GPS selfdestruct devices, however which can be easily interfered by hostile signal source thus can be easily triggered to explore anywhere close to a hostile source. b, without selfdestruction, still the drone can be captured by a hostile signal source, as long as a drone needed to be controlled by someone. Only solution is a highly intelligent drone which doesnt need a human control at all and can analyse all the information by itself. well that might still not that safe right?
you see, the problem is that Iran is good at it, they know how a drone works and they have the ability to intercept it. good luck US!

by: Nikos Retsos from: Chicago
December 04, 2012 11:07 AM
It seems to me like a tale full of intrigue! The Iranians have the drone; its is a highly secret weapon that can't be bought from any arms dealer, and the U.S. denies it is missing any!

Where, then, the drone came from? A report quotes U.S. sources saying that some U.S. drones have fallen into the Gulf waters, and the Iranians might have dredged one! Does the U.S. abandon U.S. drones fallen into the shallow Gulf waters - for Iranians to pick up? Well, that sounds fishy to me! I bet that the U.S. military is too embarrass to admit that Iran got a 2nd U.S. drone, and it tries to diminish the drone's value as an old and rusted wreck from the Gulf's bottom.

It is time for the U.S. to unleash the "bee" size drones, and hope that a magpie bird won't catch them for lunch before they complete their mission! Nikos Retsos, retired professor

by: JKF from: Ottawa, Canada
December 04, 2012 9:55 AM
I find it absolutely astonishing that US drones, especially the high tech ones, do not have a baromethric/GPS tied self destruct mechanism; such needs to be set to a geographical area (over enemy territory) and to go off once the vehicle gets below a preset altitude/off programed course/ control loss from the controller (well below the mission altitude/pathway/pre-programed course), to ensure no drones end in enemy territory/hands in big pieces. It always amazes me that the US, and other NATO forces, have such lax systems/procedures wrt protection of hard assets. Time and time again we read about technology falling into the wrong hands. Time to start looking for accountability of those in charge of these apparent lax programs/procedures/contracts//designs/ manufacturing!

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