Iran's Captured Drone Is One Strange UAV

Iranian authorities are showing off what they claim is an American ScanEagle UAV. This lightweight drone is launched via catapult, lands via tow cable hookup, and was originally designed for fishing. Like, for fish.

Iran's military claims that they have captured an American drone flying over the Persian Gulf. Iranian officials appearing on state-operated English language cable news network Press TV showed footage of the drone, an unmarked Boeing ScanEagle. However, there's only one problem: American officials say all of the U.S. Navy's UAVs in the Middle East are accounted for.

So what's going on?

  • American officials could be bluffing about not losing any Navy drones.
  • The captured UAV could originate with another military service branch or an intelligence agency.
  • There's also the possibility that the drone is being operated by another country, such as the United Arab Emirates or Canada. ScanEagles are used by multiple Persian Gulf states.
  • There's even a chance that Iran is orchestrating the whole thing or using a drone that was captured weeks or months ago.

One thing is for sure: The ScanEagle is one strange drone.

For starters, ScanEagles are heavily modded fishing robots. It is based on the SeaScan, a UAV designed for use in fishing. SeaScan UAVs are commonly used by commercial fishing operations to do flyovers in search of rich fishing waters. As a result, SeaScans/ScanEagles aren't even intended to land when they finish their mission; manufacturer Insitu designed them to be captured by a long arresting line attached to a ship's boom. This is the reason why SeaScans and ScanEagles have distinctive hooks on their wings.

These UAVs are also extremely light and resemble model airplanes much more than the fearsome Predator drones of popular imagination. ScanEagles weigh approximately 40 pounds and can fly for 24 hours at a time before returning home. Rather than using a runway, they are launched with a giant seaborne slingshot and their electro-optic and infrared cameras quickly kick in.

ScanEagles have been used by the United States Navy since 2005 and are best known as pirate-busters. The small drones, which don't have any weaponry and are designed expressly for surveillance, played a crucial part in the famous 2009 rescue of the cargo vessel MK Maersk Alabama from pirates.

As of press time, Iran has not announced how the ScanEagle was captured. An American UAV was allegedly hacked in Iran in 2011, leading to the UAV's hijacking.

[Image: Press TV]