Published — Wednesday 5 December 2012
Last update 5 December 2012 4:00 am
TEHRAN: Iran claimed yesterday it had captured a US drone after it entered Iranian airspace over the Persian Gulf — even showing an image of a purportedly downed craft on state TV — but the US Navy said all its unmanned aircraft in the region were “fully accounted for.” The conflicting accounts still leave the possibility that the drone claimed by Iran, a Boeing-designed ScanEagle, could have been plucked from the sea in the past and unveiled for maximum effect following escalating tensions over US surveillance missions in the Gulf.
Other countries in the region — such as the United Arab Emirates — also have ScanEagle drones in their fleets.
Cmdr. Jason Salata, a spokesman for the US Navy’s 5th Fleet in Bahrain, said ScanEagles operated by the Navy “have been lost into the water” over the years, but there is no “record of that occurring most recently.” The Iranian announcement did not give details on the time or location of the claimed drone capture.
It’s certain, however, to be portrayed by Tehran as another bold challenge to US reconnaissance efforts in the region. Last month, the Pentagon said a drone came under Iranian fire in the Gulf but was not harmed. A year ago, Iran managed to bring down an unmanned CIA spy drone possibly coming from Afghanistan.
Iran also has recently alleged repeated airspace violations by US drones, which Washington denies.
“The US Navy has fully accounted for all unmanned air vehicles operating in the Middle East region,” said Salata. “Our operations in the Gulf are confined to internationally recognized waters and airspace.” Iran claimed it captured the drone after it entered Iranian airspace. A report on state TV quoted the navy chief of Iran’s powerful Revolutionary Guard, Gen. Ali Fadavi, as saying the Iranian forces caught the “intruding” drone, which had apparently taken off from a US aircraft carrier.
“The US drone, which was conducting a reconnaissance flight and gathering data over the Persian Gulf in the past few days, was captured by the Guard’s navy air defense unit as soon as it entered Iranian airspace,” Fadavi said. “Such drones usually take off from large warships.” Al-Alam, the Iranian state TV’s Arabic-language channel, showed two Guard commanders examining what appeared to be an intact ScanEagle drone. It was not immediately clear if that was the same drone Iran claimed to have captured.
In the 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 US drones in the past two years.