The Iranian military shot down an unmanned American “spy plane” along the country’s eastern border with Afghanistan, Iranian English language Press TV reported, citing an unidentified military official.
“Iran Army’s electronic warfare unit successfully targeted the American-built RQ-170 Sentinel stealth aircraft” — a secret drone that was built to operate without detection — and the drone “has been seized with minimum damage,” a source said, according to Press TV.
The source added that “due to the clear border violation, the operational and electronic measures taken by the Islamic Republic of Iran’s Armed Forces against invading aircraft will not remain limited to the Iran’s borders,” according to Press TV.
The report has not been independently confirmed. The Iranian government has made no official comment.
The Iranians have made similar claims in the past that have turned out to be false. But in this case, the The International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), the U.S.-led command in Afghanistan, released a statement saying that the drone may be a “U.S. unarmed reconnaissance aircraft” that they “lost control of” late last week over western Afghanistan.
“The UAV to which the Iranians are referring may be a US unarmed reconnaissance aircraft that had been flying a mission over western Afghanistan late last week. The operators of the UAV lost control of the aircraft and had been working to determine its status,” an ISAF statement released today in Kabul said.
The United States will not say what type of drone crashed, but they say it was not shot down, although a U.S. senior military official told ABC News that the claims are being taken seriously.
“We are assuming Iran has something,” the official said.
There are provisions built into drones to protect sensitive technology. If contact with the drone is lost, that information can be remotely erased, but if this is indeed a stealth drone, pieces of the skin itself could be used to try to duplicate stealth surfaces.
“There are important secrets that can be lost either by looking at the kind of material that is used on the airplane or by looking at the shape,” said Michael O’Hanlon, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution who specializes in defense and foreign policy issues.
Mark Fitzpatrick, the director of the Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Program at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, says even if the drone was shot down, it would not have a dramatic impact on the relationship between the United States and Iran.
“It’s one more issue in a series of issues in a ratcheting up of tension between Iran and the western world,” Fitzpatrick said. “The United States and Iran don’t have any relations — there’s no ambassador to expel as they did in the case of Britain, there’s no embassy to storm and there’s no pilot who was manning the plane to be trotted out.”
The Iranian TV reports showed a map of where the plane was supposedly shot down, but no photos of the plane.
“Without any photos there’s absolutely no evidence at all. Of course even if there were photos they could be doctored,” said Fitzpatrick.