TEHRAN, Iran — Iran claimed Tuesday it had taken another prize in a growing showdown with Washington over drone surveillance, displaying a purported U.S. unmanned aircraft it said was captured intact. The U.S. Navy, however, said none of its drones in the region was missing.
The conflicting accounts could put pressure on both sides for more details on U.S. reconnaissance and Iranian counter-measures.
They also point to other questions, including how Iran could manage to snatch the Boeing-designed ScanEagle drone without noticeable damage to its light-weight, carbon-fiber body or whether the aircraft could be from another Gulf country that deploys it.
There is even the possibility the drone is authentic but was plucked from the sea after a past crash and unveiled for maximum effect amid escalating tensions over U.S. reconnaissance missions — including a Predator drone coming under fire from Iranian warplanes last month.
But unlike the larger Predator, which can carry weapons and sophisticated surveillance systems, the much smaller ScanEagle collects mostly photographic and video images using equipment with little intelligence value, experts said. One called the craft a large seagull with cameras.
Washington denies it has crossed into Iranian airspace, but Iran's definition of its jurisdiction could be far broader. State-run Press TV said any surveillance of Iran was considered a violation of territory.
Cmdr. Jason Salata, a spokesman for the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet in Bahrain, said there are no Navy drones missing in the Middle East.