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Spy drone is reportedly working, packed with captured technology which Iran reverse engineered

Iran's drone technology has unintentionally gotten a boost from the U.S. The Middle Eastern state tricked a high-tech Lockheed Martin Corp. (LMT) RQ-170 Sentinel drone into thinking it was at a U.S. Air Force (USAF) post in Afghanistan and landing on an Iranian airstrip.
 
I. Iran Mocks Obama's Pleas to Return Spy Drone
 
The capture has led to many embarrassments for the U.S.
 
First the Obama administration tried to suggest the bold claims might be fake.  When photographic evidence and videos proved the captured drone was real, the administration shifted gears by implying that Iran's claims of jamming and tricking the drone were false, and it was probably just shot down.  Then on Dec. 13, 2011 -- roughly a week after the epic capture -- President Barack Obama (D) asked the Iranians to give America its drone back.  He commented:

We've asked for it back. We'll see how the Iranians respond.

Iran drone
The RQ-170 Spy Drone [Image Source: ABC News]

The Iranians condemned the request.  Gen. Hossein Salami, deputy commander of Iran's military told the semi-autonomous Fars News Agency:

No nation welcomes other countries' spy drones in its territory, and no one sends back the spying equipment and its information back to the country of origin.

But the Iranians didn't send the President's envoys away empty handed.  They sent plastic toy models of the drone, saving a "special pink one" for President Obama in a cheeky gesture.  It would also show fairly definitively that it did capture the drone via electronic trickery, not a crude shootdown as U.S. experts claimed.

Drone toys
Iran sent drone toys in response to the U.S.'s request -- including a special pink one for President Obama. [Image Source: Teribon.ir]

Then last year the state-run Iranian Tasnim News Agency announced that the military "managed to reverse engineer most parts" of the drone.  Some experts and members of Congress expressed skepticism that Iran had the sophistication to crack the drone's data troves, which were being harvested on behalf of the U.S. Cental Intelligence Agency (CIA) at the time of its capture.





Again, Iran embarrassed the critics, in Feb. 2013 releasing footage from the drone, which Pentagon sources eventually acknowledged was likely authentic.
 
II. Does Iran Have a Drone Clone?
 
Now it claims to have yet again achieved something its western rival claimed was impossible.
 
At a special aerospace exhibition in Tehran, Iran on Sunday May 11, the Iranian military unveiled a supposed working replica of the American design.  The unveil was performed at a ceremony honoring Iran's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who was in attendance.

Iran drone clone
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei examines the replicated drone at a special ceremony.
[Image Source: Leader.ir]

It's impossible to tell from the photos whether Iran's claims were true, but given how many times Iran has proven its doubters wrong during the drone saga, it's probably foolishly to automatically assume the drone is simply a non-working replica fake.

Iran drone
The original drone was displayed beside the new drone [Image Source: Leader.ir]

Iran's state Tasnim News Agency reports:

The drone was brought down by the Iranian Armed Forces' electronic warfare unit which commandeered the aircraft and safely landed it.


In photos the drone was shown alongside the captured original flier, which survived its landing in relatively good shape.  It's entirely possible that Iran's claims are the real deal, given not only its past successes with the captured drone, but also its long-standing military program which aimed to develop its own drone spycraft, strikecraft, and bombers which it gives creative names to, such as "Angel of Death".

Iran drone
The captured drone was a Lockheed Martin RQ-170 drone. [Image Source: Leader.ir]

The RQ-170 is by no means the most advanced drone that is believed to be in the CIA's arsenal.  At the same time it is a rather important catch, as it was a relatively high tech aircraft that packed much more advanced automation and imaging technology than what is found in more crude, but common U.S. spy drones.  If Iran's claims are accurate, it has likely made significant leaps in its own autonomous surveillance and warfare efforts.
 
From the photos it's clear the drone is not an exact replica, but rather an effort to ostensibly replicate the look and key features of the U.S. drone.  From the outside it looks convincing with overall body styling that mirror its U.S. inspiration.

Iran drone
Another shot of the cloned drone [Image Source: Leader.ir]

Iran also reportedly captured a U.S. Navy drone in Dec. 2012 using similar tricks, but that was a cheaper model -- less of a catch than the valuable RQ-170 spy plane.

Source: CNN





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