Iranian warplanes fired on US drone last week: Pentagon

A Pentagon spokesman Thursday said Iranian warplanes had shot at but missed a US drone flying in international airspace Nov. 1.

WASHINGTON — Iranian warplanes fired multiple rounds at an unmanned unarmed U.S. surveillance aircraft in international airspace over the Gulf last week, but the craft was undamaged and returned safely to its base, Pentagon spokesman George Little said on Thursday.

Meanwhile, an Iranian news agency on Friday said the drone had violated Iran's airspace. The semiofficial FARS agency reported that Gen. Masoud Jazayeri of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards said Iran would confront any "flying object" that entered its air space.

"The defenders of the Islamic Republic will respond decisively to any form of encroachment by air, sea or on the ground," Fars news agency quoted General Massoud Jazayeri, a senior armed forces commander, as saying on Friday.
 
"If any foreign aircraft attempts to enter our airspace our armed forces will deal with them," he said. Jazayeri did not mention the drone incident specifically.

President Barack Obama and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta were both advised early on about the unprecedented incident, which occurred at about 4:50 a.m. ET on Nov. 1.

Iran was later warned through diplomatic channels the United States would keep conducting surveillance flights in the region and would protect its military assets, Little said.

"The United States has communicated to the Iranians that we will continue to conduct surveillance flights over international waters over the Arabian Gulf consistent with longstanding practice and our commitment to the security of the region," Little told a Pentagon briefing.

"We have a wide range of options from diplomatic to military to protect our military assets and our forces ... and will do so when necessary," he added.

The incident came a year after a CIA drone crashed in Iran - giving the Islamic Republic access to sensitive American technology.

The MQ-1 "Predator" military drone involved in the latest incident on Nov. 1 was conducting routine surveillance over the Gulf 16 nautical miles from Iran when it was intercepted by Russian-made Iranian SU-25 "Frogfoot" aircraft and was fired upon with guns, Little said.

Another Pentagon spokesman confirmed that two SU-25s were involved.

Asked whether the Iranians may have been firing warning shots, Little said the U.S. assessment was that the Iranian aircraft were aiming to shoot down the U.S. drone.

"Our aircraft was never in Iranian air space. It was always flying in international air space. The internationally recognized territorial limit is 12 nautical miles off the coast and we never entered the 12 nautical mile limit," Little said.

The Pentagon said relevant officials in Congress were informed of the incident. Little declined to say which military service owned the drone.

This is the second incident involving a U.S. drone and Iran.

In December 2011 a U.S. RQ-170 Sentinel drone equipped with stealth technology was captured in eastern Iran. Tehran claims it brought down the aircraft, but U.S. officials said the drone malfunctioned and had to land.

After initially saying only that a drone had been lost near the Afghan-Iran border, American officials eventually confirmed the plane was monitoring Iran's military and nuclear facilities. Washington asked for it back but Iran refused, and instead released photos of Iranian officials studying the aircraft.