The US Navy, which operates ScanEagle drones in the region, responded from the headquarters of the Fifth Fleet in Bahrain that all its drones operating in the Middle East were accounted for. It also noted in a statement, “Our operations in the Gulf are confined to internationally recognized water and air space.”
At the same time, some military experts note, the drone that Iran displayed exhibited no US military markings, suggesting the vehicle, which is not unique to the US military, might belong to another country. Other Gulf countries possess ScanEagles as part of their reconnaissance fleets.
Iran’s downing of a ScanEagle is reminiscent of another drone incident a year ago, when Tehran trumpeted its capture of a more sophisticated Sentinel drone – one clearly owned by the US.
In that case, the US insisted the drone strayed into Iranian airspace and then crashed after it malfunctioned – and America demanded its return. Iran, displaying an intact vehicle, claimed on the contrary that it had hacked into the drone’s computer and brought it down. Refusing to return it, Iran later claimed to have dismantled the Sentinel to study its construction and operation.
In the ongoing covert war between the US and Iran, most of the actions remain mysterious and unclaimed – until one side or the other sees an advantage in shining light on an incident. Thus Iran, which has an interest in demonstrating to its foes its ability to intercept foreign aircraft, was quick to show the world its latest prize.