The video, broadcast on Feb. 6 on state-run TV, comes amid a slew of demonstrations by the Islamic Republic of scientific and technological advances in the buildup to the 34th anniversary of the 1979 Islamic Revolution on Feb. 10.
Such claims by Iran have sometimes been exaggerated in the past. They are regularly used to depict a nation at the cutting edge of science, growing in national prestige and power despite crippling US and European sanctions. That theme has been constant during what Iran officially calls the "10 Days of Dawn" – the period that marks the return from exile on Feb. 1, 1979 of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the father of Iran's revolution, to the consolidation of the revolution on Feb. 10 that year.
The grainy footage, which could not be independently verified as coming from the bat-wing RQ-170 drone itself, shows aerial views of a city, and images filmed while taxiing along the runway at a US military base identified by Iran in the video as Kandahar, Afghanistan. In the final seconds, the video reverts to a more typical drone-view format with some digital data blocked out. From overhead it shows an explosion, apparently of a targeted building in a built-up area.
"After we decrypted the data ... we realized that the aircraft had made a lot of flights inside regional countries and was directing much fighting in Pakistan," states Gen. Amir Ali Hajizadeh, commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) aerospace division, in the video presentation.
A Pentagon spokesman told Fox News, "We aren't able to confirm the authenticity of the video. … We don't provide details regarding matters of intelligence."
US officials say the RQ-170 malfunctioned while it was on a top secret mission inside Iran, rather than being hijacked by Iran, as the Islamic Republic has claimed. An Iranian scientist at the time told the Monitor that Iran had in fact "spoofed" the drone, incrementally feeding its GPS system wrong information to land it largely intact in Iran.The new images appear to show for the first time Iran's recovery of the RQ-170 Sentinel, nicknamed the "Beast of Kandahar" and part of a program so sensitive that the US military had only one time prior to the Iranian capture admitted its existence.
In one Iranian image, the drone is being hoisted by helicopter. Another image shows it loaded – with wings detached – onto a truck transporter; yet another of it being packed into the belly of an Iranian military plane.
Iran first said it had unlocked the data secrets of the drone last April, claiming then that it had "unlimited intelligence" on the drone's activities.
The broadcast of the purported video from the stealth drone comes as Iran in recent days has declared a number of technological leaps. They included launching a monkey into space and unveiling a homemade radar-evading jet fighter, plans to install a new generation of uranium enriching centrifuge, a host of new military capabilities, and even an indigenous drone production line for export.The results are proof, Iranian officials assert, of a revolutionary Islamic spirit that will triumph, despite sanctions targeting Iran's oil, banking, and trade sectors.
"Ahead of the 34th anniversary of the Islamic revolution, we are more prepared and more powerful than any time; our enemies have been disappointed and have no choice but to gradually retreat," top IRGC commander Maj. Gen. Mohammad Ali Jafari said on Feb. 6, as quoted in Iranian media.
Israel and the US have not ruled out military strikes on Iran over its nuclear program, which Iran claims is peaceful and for power production only. Iran is due to meet with six world powers in Kazakhstan on Feb. 26 for nuclear talks. Those are aimed at limiting Iran's nuclear efforts, to ensure that it can't make a bid for a bomb.
The IRGC was ready if attacked, Jafari said, according to PressTV: "We have identified all possible strategies [devised] by the enemies and we have drawn up comprehensive defense solutions ... and our power on the ground, in the air and at sea [can] effectively respond to all threats."
Praising recent military advances, Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei told Air Force commanders on Feb. 6, "You destroyed the propaganda of dominant powers who promoted the idea that nations cannot stand on their own feet."
Exploring the next frontier
When Iran launched its first homemade satellite in February 2009 – which reportedly orbited the earth 700 times in three months – it joined a club of just nine nations that had ever done so. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad declared then that "Iranian scientists have broken the chains of humiliation and the scientific monopoly of [the West]."
Iran has sought to continue that trajectory, sending a rat, turtles, and worms into space in 2010. A monkey launch failed in 2011, but in another monkey launch on Jan. 28, the animal returned to earth alive. Skepticism about the feat, and a mix-up of pictures, prompted Iranian officials to release footage shot from the rocket of the launch and the monkey, as well as its return to earth.
Defense Minister Brig. Gen. Ahmad Vahidi announced that a new space launch center, part of a 10-year space program drawn up by the president's office, was in its "final stages," Fars News Agency reported.
Two new satellite prototypes were shown this week, and Mr. Ahmadinejad declared that he was "ready to be the first human to be sent to space by Iranian scientists," Mehr News reported. Iran says it plans to begin manned spaceflight by the end of the decade.
Iran also grabbed headlines this week – and garnered much derision outside the country – when it unveiled the Qaher (Conquerer) F-313, which it billed as its first "super advanced" radar-evading stealth fighter. Ahmadinejad trumpeted the plane as "among the most advanced fighter jets in the world," showing Iran's readiness to "conquer scientific peaks." He said he was "very satisfied" Iranian pilots had put it through "thousands of hours" of test flights.
But the snub-winged fighter appeared to many outside aeronautics experts as a mock-up, with little wiring, poor optics through its plexiglass-looking canopy, and a fuselage ultimately much too small to carry the fuel and weaponry for the task described.
A video released of the plane in flight looked more like a radio-controlled craft than an operable jet fighter, several experts said.
Also announced this week: Iran's Zolfaqar tank "outpaced" the capabilities of Russian T-72 main battle tank, "after it was optimized," claimed Iranian Army ground force commander Brig. Gen. Ahmad Reza Pourdastan.
Iran proclaimed as well "great achievements" in its own crop of long-range drones, with more than 20 different versions, according to Iran's deputy defense chief Mohammad Eslami. He said Iranian drones were "highly demanded by different countries," and that Iran had "transferred the assembly line to these countries."
In December, Iran claimed to have captured a Boeing ScanEagle drone that entered its airspace over the Persian Gulf. Mehr News showed a photograph with the caption, "ScanEagle assembly line in Iran." The captured ScanEagle appeared in the foreground, and the outlines of a number of others, apparently reverse engineered, in the background.
Such progress in the Islamic Republic is "the visible manifestation of ... divine promises," Khamenei said last month. "Despite all the pressures and plots of the enemy, today, after 34 years [Iran] has great and understanding people who ... know their enemy and benefit from great scientific achievements."