The Fars news agency said on Tuesday the Boeing-made ScanEagle drone was gathering information over Gulf waters when it entered Iranian airspace and was subsequently captured by a naval unit of the Revolutionary Guards.
General Ali Fadavi, the Guards’ navy chief, was quoted as saying the “intruding” drone was in Iran’s possession.
“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 Guards’ navy air defence unit as soon as it entered Iranian airspace,” Fadavi said. “Such drones usually take off from large warships.”
Iran has released footage of the captured drone.
Commander Fadavi further said that the IRGC Navy is fully monitoring all the movements of the foreign forces in the Persian Gulf and the strategic Strait of Hormuz to counter any potential threats against the country.
However, the US navy said that none of its drones was missing. “The US 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 recognised water and air space,” a US navy spokesman in Bahrain said.
“We have no record that we have lost any ScanEagles recently.”
If true, the seizure of the drone would be the third reported incident involving Iran and US drones in the past year.
Last month, Iran claimed a US drone had violated its airspace. The Pentagon said the unmanned Predator aircraft came under fire at least twice but was not hit and that it was over international waters.
In April this year, Iran claimed it had copied technology from a US drone brought down in December 2011 on its eastern borders with Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Tehran said it recovered data from the RQ-170 Sentinel, a top-secret drone equipped with stealth technology. As proof, Iranian military cited the drone’s flight log, saying it had flown over Osama bin Laden’s Pakistani hideout two weeks before he was killed by US special forces.
After acknowledging the loss of the drone, US sources said their software was encrypted and of little intelligence value.
The US blamed the loss of the RQ-170 Sentinel drone on a technical problem, while Iran claimed it brought it down electronically by disrupting its GPS system.
Earlier in December 2011, the Iranian military also grounded a US RQ-170 Sentinel stealth aircraft while it was flying over the Iranian city of Kashmar, some 140 miles (225km) from the Afghan border.
The US RQ-170 Sentinel stealth aircraft was downed with minimal damage by the Iranian Army’s electronic warfare unit. The drone was one of America’s most advanced spy aircraft.
Last month, Iran repelled a US drone that had entered the country’s airspace above the territorial waters of the Islamic Republic in the Persian Gulf.
Brigadier General Amirali Hajizadeh, the commander of the Aerospace Division of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC), said that the drone had been driven away by Iranian forces as it attempted to gather intelligence around Kharg Island in southern Iran.
Hajizadeh also warned that the country’s armed forces would respond with stronger action if US drones attempted to violate Iran’s airspace again.