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Navy officials poke holes in Iran's drone story


A drone Iran claims to have captured from the United States “appears to have been fished out of the sea,” and “not ours” according to U.S. Navy and defense officials, casting doubt on Iran’s version of events.  While it appears that the ScanEagle drone may have gone down in the Persian Gulf, military officials are confident it is not a U.S. drone.

Navy officials also note that the serial number on the drone is covered with black tape in the video released by Iran, preventing them from tracking it. If the serial number were visible, the U.S. military or the manufacturer, Boeing Co., could tell exactly where the drone originated.

The drone shown in the video is a ScanEagle model, but those are not unique to the United States. Boeing sells ScanEagles to at least nine different nations and private business such as oil companies operating in the Persian Gulf. 

Defense officials describe the ScanEagles as being at the “low end of drone and surveillance technology,” which would provide the Iranians nothing new in technological or weapons development no matter whose drone it is.  The surveillance apparatus consists only of a camera and transmitter.  There is no video, data or intelligence stored on the drone itself.

All officials spoke to NBC News on condition of anonymity.

The Boeing ScanEagle is four feet long and has a 10-foot wingspan, according to the company's website. They are used for surveillance only.

The comments from U.S. officials came a day after Iran's semi-official Fars and the state-run URNA news agencies reported that a U.S. ScanEagle was gathering information over Gulf waters when it was captured by a naval unit of the Revolutionary Guards. 

On Tuesday, a spokesman for U.S. Naval Forces Central Command in Bahrain denied Iran's report.

"The U.S. Navy has fully accounted for all unmanned air vehicles (UAV) operating in the Middle East region. Our operations in the Gulf are confined to internationally recognized water and air space," the spokesman said. "We have no record that we have lost any ScanEagles recently." 

Last month, the U.S. said Iranian warplanes shot at a U.S. surveillance drone flying in international airspace. Iran said the aircraft had entered its airspace.

Jim Watson / AFP - Getty Images, file

A ScanEagle, an autonomous aircraft system, is seen in St. Inigoes, Md., in August 2009.