It's something straight out of a tired, if not ominously routine international spy thriller. A somewhat wooden-looking commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps naval forces, standing before a large map of the Persian Gulf, sings Tehran's recent seizing of a US spy drone, an intact ScanEagle long-endurance unmanned aerial vehicle. Above the map, in writing, the warning: "We will trample the US under our feet."
That's according to a video report released Tuesday by the state-controlled Press TV. It comes at a moment of increasing tensions over Tehran's nuclear ambitions, which have American forces showing muscle by sea, a point Rear Adm. Ali Fadavi plays up in the report. He says that his forces "hunted down" the ScanEagle, a 4-foot spy plane--perfect for launching off ships--made by Boeing, when it entered Iranian airspace over the gulf, forcing ("spoofing") the drone to land electronically.
Didn't this just happen? Yes--twice.
Sort of. Early last month, Pentagon brass claimed that Iranian aircraft fired on a Predator drone, a so-called hunter-killer unmanned aircraft, that had been loitering over the gulf two weeks prior. The incident--if it actually happened--may not be a total win for Tehran. To anyone's knowledge, the Predator glided away, unscathed. No captured Western spy gear to parade around to media, here. But in a region marked by hotly contested air and maritime borders, the incident still can be viewed as something like another small victory in Tehran's propaganda battle. We fired on you!
Which, of course, hearkens back to Iran boasting last year of having brought down one of the US's next-level stealth drones, a mysterious RQ-170 Sentinel unmanned spy plane owned and operated by the CIA. Turns out Tehran wasn't blowing smoke. That claim was legit, and served as one of the first real wake up calls to not only Iran's spoofing abilities--its ability to jam signals and reconfigure GPS of enemy drones, effectively hijacking the things. It pointed to a coming age of routinzed spoofing, where something like a US ScanEagle drone being overwhelmed by Iran is, well, normal.
But what Tehran's claiming today should still be taken down with a hulking grain of salt. Not surprisingly, American officials are calling bullshit.
“The U.S. Navy has fully accounted for all unmanned air vehicles operating in the Middle East region. Our operations in the gulf are confined to internationally recognized water and air space,” a spokesman for United States Naval Forces Central Command in Bahrain said told Reuters. “We have no record that we have lost any ScanEagles recently.”
Then again, American officials went through similiar denial motions over the Sentinel flap. We'll see how long it lasts, though I still wouldn't hold my breath, if I were you.
Reach Brian at email@example.com. @thebanderson