Tehran claims to reverse-engineer RQ-170 Sentinel, adding Iran is producing
‘more than 20 types of drones’ and intends to export
Iran has released video footage and still images Tehran claims were extracted from a US surveillance drone it captured two years ago as evidence of the Islamic republic’s capability to decode the secret data obtained by the spy aircraft.
State-run television broadcast a programme on Wednesday night about Iran’s advances in drone technology that featured a poor-quality video that the narrator said was recorded by an RQ-170 Sentinel drone.
In December 2011, members of Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards put on show a US unmanned aerial vehicle they claimed to have brought down electronically. US officials later confirmed the aircraft was captured in Iran but insisted it malfunctioned and was not brought down.
At the time Barack Obama appealed for the return of the spy drone, but a Guards commander refused, saying the aircraft’s flight over Iran amounted to a hostile act against the Islamic republic and a violation of its airspace. Iran then promised to investigate the drone’s technology and produce it domestically.
Amir Ali Hajizadeh, the commander of the Guards’ airspace division, narrating on Wednesday’s TV programme, said: “We were able to definitively access the data of the drone, once we brought it down.
“After we decrypted the data … we realised that this aircraft had made a lot of flights inside regional countries.”
The state-run English-language Press TV said on Thursday the footage shown was made by a camera positioned on the drone’s underbelly, which also filmed a US military base in Kandahar, Afghanistan.
Hajizadeh claimed that the drone’s data has been “fully decoded”. It could not be immediately verified if Iran had indeed decrypted classified video or merely shown what was recorded by a camera installed on the aircraft.
After the seizure of the drone, Hajizadeh said, there was speculation the US would send forces into Iran to destroy its remains, but he did not believe the Americans would take that risk.
The programme’s broadcast coincided with the anniversary celebrations of the 1979 Islamic revolution, a period of two weeks when Iran often puts on display its latest scientific, military and technological progresses.
Tehran’s claims of military advances are often met with scepticism in the west. Last week, the Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, attended an unveiling ceremony for what was claimed to be a domestically built stealth fighter jet capable of operating at low levels. Military experts have since cast doubt on the authenticity of the claims.
Since Iran seized the RQ-170, the country has claimed advances in its drone industry and has exhibited a number of US and Israeli drones allegedly brought down from its airspace.
In September, the Guards unveiled what it claimed was a new “indigenous” reconnaissance drone capable of reaching Israel. Shahed-129 (or Witness-129) was claimed to have a range of up to 2,000km and capable of 24 hours of flight.
In December, a Guards commander said his forces had their hands on a US ScanEagle unmanned drone, which, he added, was being produced in mass domestically. Ali Fadavi was quoted at the time by Iranian agencies as saying that Iran has captured a total of three ScanEagles. US authorities denied those claims at the time, saying all its unmanned air vehicles were fully accounted for.
Wednesday’s TV programme also showed pictures of ScanEagle drone production line in Iran.
Mohammad Eslami, a deputy defence minister, said in the programme that Iran was producing “more than 20 types of drones”, adding that Tehran intended to export its unmanned aircraft, including Hezbollah militant group in Lebanon.
“With Lebanon locating in Iran’s strategic depth, they can use our facilities and achievements,” he added.
Hezbollah’s leader, Hassan Nasrallah, said in October that a drone shot down by Israel was assembled in Lebanon but designed in Iran. Iranian officials confirmed his comments.