Iran has successfully launched a replica of a U.S. reconnaissance drone seized in 2011, according to state media.
"As we promised earlier this year, a test flight of the Iranian version of the RQ-170 was carried out and a video will be released soon," Brigadier General Amir Ali Hajizadeh, the head of the aerospace division of the Revolutionary Guard, told state TV on Monday.
In May, a news agency affiliated with the regime released pictures purporting to show a number of Iranian dignitaries including Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei viewing the captured RQ-170 drone, and the Iranian replica.
Khamenei today described the development as “sweet and unforgettable” in a video uploaded by the Tasnim news agency, a Tehran-based government media outlet.
The RQ-170 Sentinel was captured three years ago, after it entered Iranian airspace, supposedly returning from operations in neighbouring Afghanistan. Iranian officials claim that they have managed to reverse-engineer the drone, and will be able to replicate the technology on a wider scale in future.
The announcement comes despite U.S. claims that the unmanned craft had been protected so as to prevent the removal of valuable data from it.
Tehran claims to have seized several U.S. drones in recent years, as well as an Israeli one in August. In December 2012, Admiral Ali Fadavi of the Iranian navy announced that his forces had captured a Boeing ScanEagle drone after it entered Iranian airspace over the Persian Gulf. At the time state media reported that Iranian technicians were working to replicate the device.
Iranian foreign minister Javad Zarif is currently in deadlocked talks over the country's nuclear programme with the U.S. secretary of state John Kerry and EU foreign minister Catherine Ashton in Oman.