Washington flatly denied Tehran’s claim to have captured a US ScanEagle drone over the Persian Gulf Wednesday, Dec. 4. The US Navy said all its unmanned aircraft in the region were “fully accounted for.”
However, Brig. Gen. Ramezan Sharif, head of the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guards PR Department responded: “I recommend the US commander to accurately count his drones once again. ScanEagle was very important to them and they don’t want to admit to being the loser,” he said.
The Iranian claim is supported by a video clip they released Thursday which showed how it was captured and brought down on Iranian soil.
Hypersensitive to dates, the Iranians chose to ambush the American drone at round about the first anniversary of their downing of the US stealth Sentinel RQ-170 on Dec. 13, 2011, as it flew in from Afghanistan over the Iranian city of Kashmar.
The Sentinel’s capture was probably a two-pronged operation involving the penetration of the command and control center running the drones from CIA Headquarters at Langley, Virginia, while reprogramming the directives guiding a satellite and the stealth drone by falsifying the images appearing on the CIA HQ screens.
This time, Tehran was intent on proving to the Americans – and through them the Israelis – that their capture of the RQ-170 was not a one-off or solely the work of Chinese cyber experts, but that their own cyber warfare specialists had attained a high degree of competence.
US and Israeli drones now have a problem
True, the ScanEagle was easier and cheaper prey: It does not carry secret systems commanded from the CIA center; neither is it guided by top-of-the-line satellites like the Sentinel. However, to bring it down in one piece, the Iranians would have had to tap into the control signals operated from the US Fifth Fleet stationed in the Persian Gulf.
If the Iranians have attained this advanced level of electronic warfare, Washington and Jerusalem will not have an easy ride if they decide to release a large swarm of unmanned aircraft for their potential offensive against Iran’s nuclear sites.
On November 1, Tehran displayed a second capability, when two Iranian SU-25 (Frogfoot) ground-attack aircraft fired two shots at a US MQ-1 Predator drone over the Persian Gulf.
The use of non-radar equipped Sukhoi aircraft for the attack indicated that radar controllers ground-based in Iran tracked the Predator and launched the fighter planes at the precisely correct moment, then guided the pilots to their best position for firing on the almost undetectable US drone.
Because the SU-25 has a fairly short range, the ground controllers had to move at top speed.
This intercept demonstrated that Iran had attained competent pilot and controller skills and they functioned well in harness.
The two incidents show Iran has developed two methods for downing US, and therefore, Israeli drones – one by using cyber warfare techniques and the other by means of the precisely positioning of fighter aircraft.