TEHRAN — Iran’s Revolutionary Guards claimed on Dec. 4 to have “captured” a small U.S. drone over Gulf waters after it entered Iranian airspace on an intelligence-gathering mission.
“The unmanned U.S. drone patrolling Persian Gulf waters, performing reconnaissance and gathering intel, was captured as soon as it entered Iranian airspace,” the unit’s naval force command said in a statement on the Guards’ website, Sepahnews.com.
The U.S. Navy said later that all its unmanned aircraft in the region were “fully accounted for,” according to Associated Press reports.
The Iranian statement did not say exactly when, where or how the aircraft was captured. It said the drone had been conducting a mission over “the past few days.”
The Guards’ naval force, tasked with guarding Iranian assets in the Gulf, said the drone was a Boeing-made ScanEagle, a short-range surveillance vehicle with a three-meter wingspan that is typically launched from ships and which can fly up to 100 kilometers.
Exactly a year ago, on Dec. 4, Iran claimed to have captured a much bigger and more sophisticated stealth drone, a bat-winged RQ-170 Sentinel.
Tehran rejected a U.S. request for that drone’s return and said it would reverse-engineer the drone to make its own.
State television networks Al-Alam and Press TV on Dec. 4 showed footage of what they said was the ScanEagle drone they had captured.
The light-grey vehicle was shown suspended inside a hangar and apparently intact, with two Guards officers examining it in front of a poster saying, in English: “We shall trample on the U.S.”
A lawmaker who chairs the Iranian parliament’s defense commission, Esmaeel Kosari, boasted to Al-Alam of the drone’s capture and warned of “decisive confrontation” if Iranian airspace was violated again.
“The drone was captured and landed safely and intact. The capture is a source of pride for our armed forces as the drone uses advanced technology,” said Kosari, a former Guards commander himself.
Iran “possesses the capability and technology to confront such violations,” he said.
Iran’s foreign ministry said last week the United States had violated Iranian airspace eight times in October and warned of a “serious reaction” if such incursions continued.
On Nov. 1, Iranian fighter jets fired on a U.S. drone in the Gulf but failed to bring it down, according to the U.S. Defense Department.
The most recent drone claim adds to military tensions between the two arch-foes in the Gulf.
Iran is subject to U.S. surveillance, notably over its controversial nuclear program.
Iran said the ScanEagle drone was on a reconnaissance mission near Bushehr, which hosts its only nuclear power plant, as well as its main oil terminal at Kharg island.