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Iran shows off alleged captured U.S. drone [Video]

December 8, 2011 | 12:54 pm

Irandrone

The Iranian government allowed television crews to shoot footage of the radar-evading, bat-winged drone the country claims to have hacked into and brought down over the weekend.

In the video, which you can see below, the aircraft looks pristine with barely a scratch on it.

Senior U.S. officials told The Times on Tuesday that the drone lost recently was on a CIA surveillance operation, and that it was unclear whether the drone's mission took it above Iran or whether it may have strayed there accidentally because of technical malfunctions.

The drone, alleged to be the Lockheed Martin Corp.-made RQ-170 Sentinel, has largely been kept a secret by the U.S. government. Little has been disclosed about the Sentinel's capabilities or operational usage. It is known that the cutting-edge drone was developed at Lockheed's famed Skunk Works in Palmdale.

Until now, only grainy and off-center photos of the Sentinel have surfaced.

The video shows Iranian military officials walking around and inspecting the aircraft. If this is the Sentinel, this marks the first occasion that the aircraft has been seen publicly in its entirety.

The Iranian government’s semiofficial Fars News Agency reported that that the captured drone has a wingspan of 85 feet, is nearly 15 feet long, nose-to-tail, and 6 feet tall. These numbers seem to match the specifications estimated by aerospace experts and aviation geeks since photos first of the Sentinel surfaced in 2009 when it was spotted on an airfield in Kandahar, Afghanistan.

For that reason the jet-powered Sentinel is also known as the ”Beast of Kandahar.” It is considered one of the most advanced aircraft in the U.S. arsenal. Its stealth technology, sophisticated computer systems, and high-powered cameras enable it to penetrate deep into hostile territory for spy missions without detection.

Its utility was demonstrated during the raid on Osama bin Laden's compound in Pakistan, where it provided surveillance for the operation.

But whether or not the aircraft in the video is indeed the Sentinel is still in question. Iran's media and government has a history of exaggeration and fabrication.

Earlier this month, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, a nonprofit media organization based in London, found that the same Iranian television station that aired Thursday's drone footage “faked” accounts of 1,370 Somali deaths by U.S. drones and has assembled an extensive list of reports about purported drone strikes.

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-- W.J. Hennigan

twitter.com/wjhenn

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