Iran says it has reverse-engineered a US spy drone captured by its armed forces last year and has begun building a copy.
General Amir Ali Hajizadeh, chief of the aerospace division of the powerful Revolutionary Guards, related on Sunday what he said were details of the aircraft’s operational history to prove his claim that Tehran’s military experts had extracted data from the US RQ-170 Sentinel captured in December in eastern Iran.
Among the drone’s past missions, he said, was surveillance of the compound in northwest Pakistan in which Shaykh Usama bin Ladin lived and was killed.
Gen. Hajizadeh and revealed what he said were “codes” gleaned from the unmanned aircraft.
“I am giving you four codes so the Americans understand just how far we have gone in penetrating the drone’s secrets,” General Amir Ali Hajizadeh, the head of the Revolutionary Guards’ aerospatial division, told state television.
“In October 2010, the aircraft was sent to California for some technical issues, where it was repaired and after flight tests, it was taken to Kandahar (in Afghanistan) in November 2010, when a series of technical problems still prevailed,” he said.
“In December 2010, it was sent to an airport near Los Angeles for repair of its equipment and sensors, and flight tests. The drone was then sent back to Kandahar,” he said.
Tehran has flaunted the capture of the Sentinel, a top-secret surveillance drone with stealth technology, as a victory for Iran and a defeat for Washington in a complicated intelligence and technological battle.
US officials have acknowledged losing the drone. They have said Iran will find it hard to exploit any data and technology aboard it because of measures taken to limit the intelligence value of drones operating over hostile territory.
US Senator Joe Lieberman, a leading voice on defense matters, expressed skepticism at Iran’s claim.
“There is some history here of Iranian bluster particularly now when they’re on the defensive because of our economic sanctions against them,” he said.
Hajizadeh told state television that the captured surveillance drone is a “national asset” for Iran and that he could not reveal full technical details. He did provide some samples of the data that he claimed Iranian experts had recovered.