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article imageIran releases video footage of downed U.S. drone

By JohnThomas Didymus     Dec 8, 2011 in World
Tehran - Iran has released on state television video footage of a C.I.A. stealth drone it claims it downed. The footage was released on Thursday. The country also lodged an official diplomatic protest at the violation of its airspace by the United States.
The Iranian government lodged its complaint through the ambassador of Switzerland. The New York Times reports that since the U.S. broke direct diplomatic relationship with Iran, Switzerland has been managing American interests in Iran.
The Iranian government showed the video of the remote-control surveillance aircraft in a 2.5 minute clip. The U.S. government, after initial denials, has confirmed that controllers of a U.S. drone in Afghanistan lost contact with it.
The drone shown in the video appeared to be in good condition. It was displayed on a platform with photos of Iran's revolutionary leaders prominently displayed behind it. A "desecrated" version of the American flag with skulls instead of stars was underneath the left wing of the plane. To explain why the aircraft was in such good condition, the chief of the aerospace division of Iran's Revolutionary Guards, General Ami Ali Hajizadeh, said Iranian forces brought down the surveillance plane in an electronic ambush. According to AP, Hajizadeh said, "It was downed through a joint operation by the Guards and Iran's regular army." The Iranian official also said the drone "was detected by Iranian radars as soon as it entered Iranian airspace and was brought down by Iran’s military systems with the minimum damage possible.”
American officials say the drone is an RQ-170 Sentinel, an unarmed surveillance aircraft belonging to the CIA. It flies at altitudes as high as 50,000 feet carrying cameras and sensor equipment for monitoring the ground. According to The New York Times, a similar aircraft was used to gather intelligence before the raid in which Osama bin Laden was killed in a Pakistan safe house.
The narrator in the video clip said the dimensions of the aircraft were 26 meters (85 feet) from wingtip to wingtip, 4.5 meters(15 feet) from nose to tail and nearly 2 meters (6 feet) in height. He said the aircraft had "electronic surveillance systems and radars" and was "very advanced piece of technology."
U.S. officials have, however, attempted to cast doubt on the claim that the aircraft was brought down by the Iranians. The New York Times reports that an analyst Loren Thompson, of the Lexington Institute in Arlington, Va., said, "It would be almost impossible for Iran to shoot down an RQ-170 because it is stealthy, therefore, the Iranian air defenses can't see it. Partly for the same reason, it is exceedingly unlikely that they used a cyber attack to bring down the aircraft."
But U.S. officials have still not explained how the American controllers of the craft lost contact with it. The Iranians have said, however, that it landed near the town of Kashmar, about 140 miles from the Afghanistan border.
Americans officials have also not confirmed that the aircraft in the video really was an American drone but they said that the video was being analyzed by specialists. According to AP, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said the U.S. would not make any comments. Kirby said: "We're just not going to talk about these kinds of missions and these kinds of capabilities."
Pentagon Press Secretary George Little, also said the Defense Department would not say whether the aircraft the Iranians displayed was the American drone the Afghanistan base lost contact with.
The drone would be of great interest to the Iranians who had built an unmanned bomber of their own in 2010. Iran, according to AP, called the bomber an "ambassador of death" to Iran's enemies.
Peter Singer, author of "Wired for War: The Robotics Revolution and Conflict in the 21st Century," confirmed that the surveillance plane carried advanced radar equipment that would be of interest to "countries like China." Singer says: "This is the jewel for them now. It depends on what was on the plane on this mission, but one sensor it has carried in the past is an AESA radar. This is a very advanced radar that really is a difference maker for our next generation of planes, not just drones, but also manned ones like F-22s and F-35s."
RQ-170s and their flights are among the most secret of C.I.A. intelligence gathering operations. BBC notes that given its advanced technology the RQ-170 is not the type of aircraft the U.S. would want to fall into the hands of the Iranians. The drone had apparently been flying deep into Iranian territory gathering intelligence and "real-time video footage of Iran's nuclear sites."
BBC commented that the incident is both political embarrassment and intelligence setback to the U.S.
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