US Navy: No Drones Missing After Iran Claim
The US Navy has denied Iran's claim that it has captured one of their drones that was flying in the country's airspace and gathering intelligence over Gulf waters.
The Iranian Fars news agency reported that the ScanEagle drone was captured "in the last few days" by the naval unit of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.
It offered no details on the location or how it had been seized.
Ali Fadavi, the Revolutionary Guards' naval commander, was quoted by state TV as saying the unmanned aircraft was now in Iran's possession.
He said the drone "was conducting a reconnaissance flight and gathering data over the Persian Gulf" and "was captured by the Guard's navy air defence unit as soon as it entered Iranian airspace".
He said such drones are normally launched from large warships.
But a US Navy spokesman said no US drones were missing in the Middle East despite Iran's claims.
"The US 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 recognised water and air space," Commander Jason Salata, from the US Navy's 5th Fleet, said.
"We have no record that we have lost any ScanEagles recently."
He added that US ScanEagles have been lost into the sea in the past.
The 5th Fleet is based in Bahrain.
If it is confirmed, the incident is likely to escalate tensions between the US and Iran.
The two countries are locked in a dispute over Tehran's nuclear programme, which Washington and its allies believe is aimed at developing an atomic bomb.
Iran says its programme is peaceful, but the country has come under tough international sanctions.
Last month, Iran said a US drone had violated its airspace. The Pentagon said the unmanned aircraft had come under fire at least twice but was not hit, and insisted the Predator drone was over international waters.
In 2011 Iran said it had brought down a CIA spy drone after it entered Iranian airspace from its eastern borders with Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Tehran later said it had retrieved data from the RQ-170 Sentinel, a top-secret drone equipped with stealth technology.
The ScanEagle, manufactured by Boeing Co, is significantly smaller than the stealth drone.
According to the firm's website, the drone is 4ft (1.2 metres) long and has a 10ft (three-metre) wingspan.