The drone Iran says it captured appears to be a U.S.-made ScanEagle, Pentagon spokesman George Little said.
While Iran said it extracted valuable data from the unmanned aerial vehicle, Little told reporters today that it was “highly improbable” that useful intelligence could be gained from the relatively unsophisticated drone. He said it couldn’t be determined if the drone was operated by the United States.
The ScanEagle, made by Boeing Co., is used by a number of countries and is less advanced than other unmanned aircraft employed by the Pentagon and the CIA, such as the Global Hawk and Predator.
Iran said its capture of the drone proves the Persian Gulf nation can protect itself from foreign aggression.
The drone’s mission was to “gather military data and information pertaining to the energy sector and shipment of crude from Iran’s oil terminals,” Brig. Gen. Ramezan Sharif, head of the public relations department of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps, said in a report published today in the Tehran-based Etemaad newspaper.
The state-run Press TV news channel showed images yesterday of what it said was the ScanEagle drone that had been captured intact. The aircraft was seized after violating the Islamic Republic’s airspace, Iranian officials said.
The seizure of the ScanEagle “is not something Americans can easily deny,” Sharif said. The evolving comments from officials in Washington underscored his point.
Tuesday, White House press secretary Jay Carney said the United States has “no evidence Iranian claims are true.”
The U.S. Navy “has fully accounted for all unmanned aerial vehicles operating in the Middle East region,” Commander Jason Salata, a spokesman for the U.S. Fifth Fleet in Bahrain, also said Tuesday.
Wednesday, Little said, “I can’t rule out the possibility that at some point in the past a ScanEagle dropped into the Gulf and was picked up.” He said it couldn’t be determined “whether or not this ScanEagle was a U.S. ScanEagle or somebody else’s.”
A ScanEagle “will offer very limited sensitive technology” to Iran, Philip Finnegan, an aerospace analyst at the Teal Group Corp., a Fairfax, Va.-based defense-market analysis firm, said yesterday in an emailed statement.
The system, made by the Insitu unit of Chicago-based Boeing, has been around for almost a decade and is being superseded by a new model called the Integrator, “which will carry considerable more payload,” he said.
“The ScanEagle was never a state-of-the art system,” such as the Global Hawk or Predator drones or the Navy’s Broad Area Maritime Surveillance system, known as BAMS, Finnegan said. It “was originally built for the commercial fishing market and then adapted to military requirements.”
The ScanEagle weighs 40 pounds (18 kilograms) and has a 10- foot (3-meter) wingspan. The system carries cameras and is used “individually or in groups to loiter over trouble spots and provide intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance data,” according to Boeing’s website.
The aircraft can reach altitudes exceeding 16,000 feet and can be launched from U.S. Navy ships.
Ramin Mehmanparast, Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman, said Wednesday the capture of the drone shows the Islamic Republic’s “defense capability reached a point where we can rely on the talent of the country’s youth to protect our airspace, sea and territory,” according to a report by the state-run Fars news agency.
Iran’s announcement that it captured the drone came days after the Senate approved new sanctions against the country to curb its nuclear program, which the United States and its Western allies say may conceal the development of nuclear-weapons capability. Iran says its atomic program is for peaceful purposes.
The Senate voted on Nov. 30 to impose financial penalties on foreign businesses and banks involved in Iran’s energy, ports, shipping, and shipbuilding industries and in metals trading with the Islamic Republic.
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