Latest update from the BBC:
The BBC reports that Iranian TV has shown the first video footage of the US drone that Tehran says it downed near the Afghan border.
Images show Iranian military officials inspecting the RQ-170 Sentinel stealth aircraft which appears to be undamaged.
Iranian officials say its forces electronically hijacked the drone and steered it to the ground.
BBC security correspondent Frank Gardner says the intact condition of the Sentinel tends to support their claim.
Pentagon officials have said they are concerned about Iran possibly acquiring information about the technology.
The unmanned U.S. drone Iran said on Sunday it had captured was programmed to automatically return to base even if its data link was lost, one key reason that U.S. officials say the drone likely malfunctioned and was not downed by Iranian electronic warfare.
A U.S. government source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the plane was on a CIA mission. The CIA and Pentagon both declined to comment on the issue.
The RQ-170 Sentinel, built by Lockheed Martin, was first acknowledged by the U.S. Air Force in December 2009. It has a full-motion video sensor that was used this year by U.S. intelligence to monitor al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan ahead of the raid that killed him.
Former and current military officials familiar with the Sentinel said they were skeptical about Iranian media reports that Iran’s military brought down one of the drones in eastern Iran, especially since Tehran has not released any pictures of the plane.
The aircraft is flown remotely by pilots based in the United States, but is also programmed to autonomously fly back to the base it departed from if its data link with U.S.-based pilots is lost, according to defense analyst Loren Thompson, who is a consultant for Lockheed and other companies.
The fact that the plane did not return to its base suggests a “catastrophic” technical malfunction, agreed one industry executive familiar with the operation and programming of unmanned aerial vehicles.
Many classified weapons systems have self-destruction capabilities that can be activated if they fall into enemy hands but it was not immediately clear if that was the case this time.
In this case, the design of the plane and the fact that it had special coatings that made it nearly invisible to radar were already well documented. If it survived a crash, all on-board computer equipment was heavily encrypted.
In the wake of the attack on the British embassy in Tehran, now come reports that Iran has shot down an unmanned U.S. spy plane that allegedly violated Iranian airspace along the country’s eastern border, according to the official IRNA news agency.
The Washington Post:
“An advanced RQ170 unmanned American spy plane was shot down by Iran’s armed forces. It suffered minor damage and is now in possession of Iran’s armed forces,” IRNA quoted the official as saying.
Iran said in January that two pilotless spy planes it had shot down over its airspace were operated by the United States and offered to put them on public display.
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The Washington Post reports that the U.S. surveillance drone that went down in western Afghanistan may be the first time that such an aircraft has fallen into the hands of an enemy.
“U.S. officials acknowledged Sunday that a drone had been lost near the Iranian border, but they declined to say what kind of aircraft was missing,” and say that there is no indication that the drone was brought down by enemy fire.
If an RQ-170 drone crashed in Iran, it would mark a significant setback for the U.S. military. The United States has lost less-sophisticated unmanned aircraft in recent years over Iran, but a nearly intact RQ-170 could offer a potential windfall of useful intelligence for the Iranians and their allies.
The aircraft has special coatings and a batwing-like shape that is designed to evade detection by enemy radar. The aircraft could help the Iranians better understand the vulnerabilities of U.S. stealth technology and provide them with clues on how to spot other aircraft, U.S. officials said.
Read more here.