Iran’s apparent capture of a largely intact RQ-170 Sentinel spy drone, which was reportedly monitoring Iran’s nuclear program, is a significant loss for the US.
Iran is pushing the propaganda advantage after showing it captured an intact US stealth drone on a spying mission 140 miles inside Iran.
Hours after Iran state TV displayed the cream-colored American bat-wing RQ-170 “Sentinel” drone – its undercarriage hidden by banners of a US flag, with stars replaced by skulls and marked with anti-US slogans – Iranian officials said the spy craft was proof of enduring US hostility toward Iran.
“Iran will target all US military bases around the world,” in case of further violations, warned conservative lawmaker Mohammad Kossari today. Iran’s response would be “terrifying.”
US officials confirmed with “high confidence” that the drone displayed by Iran is almost certainly the one reported lost last by US forces in Afghanistan last week. It was on an intelligence mission to hunt evidence in Iran of nuclear weapons work.
Despite those and other intelligence-gathering efforts – which are reported to include even surreptitiously installing radiation detectors at suspect sites in Tehran – the drone flights have apparently not yielded new evidence that would change conclusions by the United States and the United Nations that Iran stopped systematic nuclear weapons-related work in 2003.
Loss of the stealth drone is “very significant,” says Robert Densmore, a defense journalist and former US Navy electronic countermeasures officer contacted in London.
“These Sentinels are pretty rare technology still, and to have one in such good condition, to be lost to a potential adversary like this, is pretty significant, especially because Iran has open ties to Russia and has been courted by China,” says Mr. Densmore.
“Strategically, the US will suffer from the loss of this because … it has radar, a fuselage, and coating that makes it low-observable, and the electronics inside are also very high-tech,” says Densmore. “Diplomatically, Iran is really looking for a way to save some face,” after the expulsion of Iranian diplomats from London, and increased scrutiny of its nuclear program, adds Densmore. “They are really looking for something to say to the world, to change public opinion, to say, ‘Look, we’re really the victims here.’”
Iran officially complained to the UN Security Council for the “blatant and provocative” violation of its airspace, and demanded “condemnation of such aggressive acts.”
State-run PressTV said that international law made the clandestine US flights over Iran an “act of war.”