Iranian Rear Admiral Fadavi
said that the drone had conducted several reconnaissance flights over the Gulf recently. The ScanEagle
is a small, long-endurance drone built by Insitu a subsidiary of Boeing. The drone does not need an airfield for launching. It is launched using a pneumatic launcher called the "SuperWedge" and has a "Skyhook" retrieval system using a hook on the end of the wingtips to engage a rope hanging from a tall pole. The wingspan is just 10 feet (3m). Admiral Fadavi said the drones are usually launched from large warships.
The ScanEagle is purely a surveillance drone unlike its larger armed big brothers the Predator and Reaper. A spokesperson for the U.S. Naval Forces Central Command
in Bahrain maintained:
"The US Navy has fully accounted for all unmanned air vehicles operating in the Middle East region. Our operations in the Gulf are confined to internationally recognised water and air space. We have no record that we have lost any ScanEagles recently."
Since these drones are gathering intelligence over hostile territory they do not have any identifying markings. The United Arab Emirates also operate ScanEagles so it is always possible that one of their drones has gone missing.
Last month the U.S. reported that Iranian planes shot at a U.S. drone that they claimed was operating in international airspace. The Iranians claimed it was within their airspace. In November, Mohammad Khazaee, the Iranian ambassador to the UN, complained to the Secretary General Ban Ki Moon that the U.S. had repeatedly violated Iranian airspace near the Bushehr power station. Khazaee called the violations "illegal and provocative acts".
A year ago, the Iranians showed pictures of a sophisticated RQ-170 Sentinel
drone that they claim had been brought down electronically. The U.S. claims it had malfunctioned. However, the drone seemed intact. The U.S. asked for the drone back but Iran kept it.