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Iran claims it's reverse-engineered 'captured' U.S. spy drone

Oct. 22, 2013 at 12:48 PM   |   Comments

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DUBAI, United Arab Emirates, Oct. 22 (UPI) -- Iran's Revolutionary Guards Corps reportedly gave Russia an unmanned aerial vehicle it claims is a copy of a U.S. Navy ScanEagle allegedly reverse-engineered from a craft they claimed to have captured in December.

The Iranian media said the purported copy was handed over to Gen. Viktor Bondarev, commander of the Russia air force, by Gen. Farzad Esmayeeli, air defense commander of Khatam al-Anbia, the Guards' military and industrial arm, at a meeting in Tehran Sunday.

There has been no independent verification the ScanEagle, built by Insitu, a subsidiary of the Boeing Co., has been reverse-engineered or even captured.

When the Revolutionary Guards boasted in December a ScanEagle had been captured over the Persian Gulf, where the U.S. Navy has a major presence, and subsequently claimed two more were obtained, the Americans insisted all their ScanEagles were accounted for.

However, earlier this month the Iranians unveiled details of new UAV designs, including photographs of a tactical reconnaissance drone named the Yaseer.

Israeli experts who viewed the photos, along with the unveiling of a new armed UAV known as the Shahed-129 the Iranians claimed they're now producing, said the Yaseer appeared to be a copy of the ScanEagle.

Beyond that, there's been no hard evidence the Guards have ScanEagle technology.

Esmayeeli was quoted by the semiofficial Fars news agency as saying after meeting with Bondarev, the drone "built by the Islamic Republic's Revolutionary Guards is a symbol of the technical capabilities of Islamic Iran and today we presented a real model of it as a gift to the Russian air force."

Iran's military chiefs have been claiming in recent weeks that the Islamic Republic is now self-sufficient in the UAV sector.

They said in early October the Guards' Aerospace Division is now mass-producing the Shahed-129, which reportedly has a range of some 1,200 miles -- enough to reach Israel -- and can stay aloft for 24 hours.

The Aerospace Division is supposedly also producing another combat drone, the Raad-85.

There seems little doubt the Iranians have been making some progress in developing UAV manufacturing capability despite frequent grandiose and often unsubstantiated claims of major technological advances.

But Israeli UAV experts who assessed the available data on Iran's UAV program as displayed earlier this month do not believe the Shahed-129 is a fully integrated, combat-capable strike UAV for various technical reasons.

Tal Inbar, a UAV specialist with Israel's Fisher Institute for Strategic Air and Space Studies, said photos of the Shahed-129 indicated a size and design similar to Elbit Systems' Hermes 900 with what appeared to be a designator for advanced laser-guided anti-tank missiles.

The craft reportedly can carry eight indigenous Sadid-1 missiles, which observers say resemble the Spike LR weapons produced by Israel's Rafael Advanced Defense Systems.

These similarities suggest the Iranians may have had access to one of the Israeli craft or the smaller Hermes 450.

The Israeli military, tight-lipped at the best of times, has not reported losing any of its Hermes' craft.

But since these are flown over Arab states, particularly neighboring Syria, an Iranian ally, to monitor the movement of weapons to Hezbollah, it's possible one may have found its way into Iranian hands.

While there's some doubt the Iranians have got a ScanEagle, the Guards did capture a U.S. stealth RQ-170 Sentinel UAV, manufactured by Lockheed Martin and operated by the Central Intelligence Agency, in December 2011 after it went down over the Islamic Republic during a classified mission.

The Iranians said they were able to hack into its command system and spoof it into landing, The CIA later admitted it had lost one of the highly sensitive surveillance craft near the town of Kashmar on the Iran-Afghanistan border.

Maj. Gen. Mohammad-Ali Jafari, the Guards Corps commander, claimed Sept. 17, 2012, the Aerospace Division had been able to reverse-engineer the RQ-170.

But so far Iran has presented no proof it has succeeded in that endeavor although in February Iranian state television showed still images of what were claimed to be from the captured Sentinel as well as what was described as the ScanEagle production line in Iran.

© 2013 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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