Iran said Sunday that it had reverse-engineered an American spy drone captured by its armed forces last year and has begun building a copy.
Gen. Amir Ali Hajizadeh, chief of the aerospace division of the powerful Revolutionary Guards, related what he said were details of the aircraft's operational history to prove his claim that Tehran's military experts had extracted data from the U.S. RQ-170 Sentinel captured in December in eastern Iran, state television reported Sunday.
Tehran has flaunted the capture of the Sentinel, a top-secret surveillance drone with stealth technology, as a victory for Iran and a defeat for the United States in a complicated intelligence and technological battle.
U.S. officials have acknowledged losing the drone. They have said Iran will find it hard to exploit any data and technology aboard it because of measures taken to limit the intelligence value of drones operating over hostile territory.
Hajizadeh told state television that the captured surveillance drone is a "national asset" for Iran and that he could not reveal full technical details. But he did provide some samples of the data that he claimed Iranian experts had recovered.
"This drone was in California in Oct. 2010 for some technical work and was taken to Kandahar in Afghanistan in Nov. 2010. It conducted flights there but apparently faced problems and (U.S. experts) were unable to fix it," he said.
Hajizadeh said the drone was taken to Los Angeles in Dec. 2010 where sensors of the aircraft underwent testing. He claimed that the drone was in use in Pakistan two weeks before Al-Qaida chief Osama bin Laden was killed by U.S. Navy SEALs in the country's northwest.
"If we had not achieved access to software and hardware of this aircraft, we would be unable to get these details. Our experts are fully dominant over sections and programs of this plane," he said.
There are concerns in the U.S. that Iran or other states may be able to reverse-engineer the chemical composition of the drone's radar-deflecting paint or the aircraft's sophisticated optics technology that allows operators to positively identify terror suspects from tens of thousands of feet in the air.
There are also worries that adversaries may be able to hack into the drone's database, as Iran claimed to have done. Some surveillance technologies allow video to stream through to operators on the ground but do not store much collected data. If they do, it is encrypted.
Media reports claimed this week that Russia and China have asked Tehran to provide them with information on the drone but Iran's Defense Ministry denied this.
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