Iran claims to have seized U.S. drone over Persian Gulf

Posted at 7:36 AM, Dec 04, 2012
and last updated 2012-12-04 07:37:44-05

TEHRAN, Iran (CNN) — A unit from Iran’s navy has captured a U.S. drone flying over the Persian Gulf, according to Iranian state media reports Tuesday.

The drone, which was collecting data, was captured immediately after entering Iranian airspace, Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps is cited as saying by the state-run news agency IRNA.

However, a U.S. defense official, who could not be named because the official was not authorized to speak to the media, says that whatever the Iranians claim to have, it is not an actively operating U.S. Navy drone.

“The U.S. Navy has fully accounted for all unmanned air vehicles (UAV) operating in the Middle East region. Our operations in the Gulf are confined to internationally recognized water and air space,” the source said.

The internationally recognized territorial limit is 12 nautical miles off the coast.

It is not yet clear whether any other branch of the U.S. military or government might have been operating a drone in the area.

Iranian state media quoted Adm. Ali Fadavi, of the Revolutionary Guards, as saying the unmanned aerial device was a ScanEagle.

With a wingspan of just over 10 feet, the ScanEagle is designed to fly for 24 hours or more without refueling and can survive extreme weather conditions, according to its manufacturer. It can be launched from the ground or from a warship.

The ScanEagle is a relatively low-cost, low-tech system and is operated by a number of U.S. allies in the Persian Gulf region.

Iran has not given details of how or when it captured the supposed U.S. device.

Iran’s official Press TV channel showed footage of what was purported to be the drone. No identification markings were visible.

Last month, the Pentagon said Iranian jets had fired on a U.S. drone as it flew off the Iranian coastline in the northern Persian Gulf.

The armed MQ-1 Predator was on a routine surveillance mission above international waters, 16 miles off the coast, the Defense Department said.

The latest announcement comes a year to the day after Iran claimed to have shot down another U.S. drone, a high-altitude RQ-170 Sentinel. It created a toy model of the drone, a much more sophisticated device than the ScanEagle, to celebrate its capture.

U.S. officials said the RQ-170 Sentinel, a stealth drone developed for the Air Force to help provide intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, had crashed in the Iranian desert after leaving an airbase in Afghanistan..