‘Iranian engineers break secrets of US drone’

Officials say copied unmanned aircraft will soon take a test flight

TEHRAN – Iran claims to have successfully copied a US drone it captured in December 2011, with state television broadcasting – and even supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei tweeting images of the replicated aircraft.

Tehran captured the US RQ-170 Sentinel in 2011 while it was in its airspace, reportedly on a mission to spy on the country's nuclear sites. At the time, US military officials tried to play down the incident, saying Iran did not have the technology to decipher its secrets.

But a military officer said in footage that they had cracked the code. “Our engineers succeeded in breaking the drone's secrets and copying them. It will soon take a test flight,” the officer said in a move that will likely appear threatening to the US.

The broadcast showed Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's visit to an exhibition organised by the powerful Revolutionary Guards air wing about Iran’s military advances, particularly regarding ballistic missiles and drones. The leader tweeted a photo of the drone. Footage showed two nearly identical drones.

“This drone is very important for reconnaissance missions,” Khamenei said, standing in front of the Iranian copy of the unmanned aircraft. Iran said it had taken control of the ultra hi-tech drone and forced it down in the desert where it was recovered nearly intact.

Iran has been working to develop a significant drone programme of its own, and some of its unmanned aircraft have a range of hundreds of miles and are armed with missiles. The state broadcaster also showed images that the commentary said had been recorded by an Iranian drone above a US aircraft carrier in the Gulf.

Khamenei said that Western expectations for the Islamic Republic to limit its missile programme were stupid and idiotic. He called on the Revolutionary Guards to mass-produce missiles. “They expect us to limit our missile programme while they constantly threaten Iran with military action. So this is a stupid, idiotic expectation,” he said.

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Aaj Kal