Iran claims second US drone capture in a year

Is the age of the drone nearly over? Iran and US dispute 'capture' of another unmanned craft

LAST UPDATED AT 15:20 ON Tue 4 Dec 2012

THE US NAVY has denied a claim made today by Iran that it has captured an American drone that flew into its airspace. Iranian TV showed footage (below) of what looked like a ScanEagle, a relatively unsophisticated US drone, being inspected by a military commander.
Rear Admiral Ali Fadavi, the commander of the naval forces of the Revolutionary Guards, said the ScanEagle had been "hunted down" and forced to land electronically after it violated Iranian airspace, The New York Times reports.

But a spokesman for US Naval Forces Central Command in Bahrain said: "The US Navy has fully accounted for all unmanned air vehicles operating in the Middle East region. We have no record that we have lost any ScanEagles recently."

The ScanEagle is a 1.25m long drone which can be launched by catapult from a vehicle or ship. Boeing, the US company that builds the ScanEagle, operates a number of units on behalf of Middle Eastern countries, according to Reuters.

If the Iranian claims are true, it would be the second US drone they have captured in the last 12 months. In December 2011, Iran released footage of an RQ-170 Sentinel drone, which it insisted it had forced to land by hacking into its control systems. The US said the drone had crashed in Iranian territory and asked Tehran to return it.

The Daily Telegraph's Con Coughlin says that the loss of the ScanEagle, coming on top of the capture of the Sentinel, shows that "the golden age of the drones, when they ruled supreme in the skies, is drawing to a close".

The proliferation of drones in places like Afghanistan, Libya and Gaza had led experts to believe that manned aerial combat would soon be a thing of the past, says Coughlin. But those experts overlooked one important fact: in most cases, the drones have been operating in uncontested air space.

"When it comes to more sophisticated foes such as Iran, which has Russian-made anti-aircraft missile systems, the drone is vulnerable to attack."

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