Iran reported today its air defense forces have downed an Israeli unmanned aircraft possibly a previously unknown, stealth model. The aircraft, believed to be an IAF/Elbit Systems Hermes 450, was intercepted by a surface-to-air missile. “A pilotless Israeli spy plane was shot down after it was traced and intercepted by the IRGC Aerospace Force,” a statement by the Iranian Republican Guards Corps’ (IRGC) announced.
According to the statement, the Israeli pilotless aircraft was a radar-evading, stealth drone with the mission to spy on Iran’s enrichment activities by flying over Natanz nuclear enrichment plant. Natanz is Iran’s main uranium enrichment site, housing more than 16,000 centrifuges. Around 3,000 more are at the Fordo plant, buried inside a mountain and hard to destroy.
The Iranians claim a drone of this class would have an operating radius of only 800 km, therefore, it could not fly all the way from Israel to Natanz, unless it was supported by forward basing in a neighbouring country
[ismember]According to the Iranian source, the Israeli drone was hit before it reached the Natanz area. At first, the Iranian statement was not substantiated with any proof the Iranians could easily obtain from at a crash site. But on Monday Iranian TV provided images and video that indicated the drone was indeed a type similar to a standard Hermes 450, not the Hermes 900 which recently entered service with the Israel Air Force. However, no special stealth designs as claimed by Iran were visible in those clips.
Hermes 450 can fly the distance between Israel and Iran, but lacking satellite communications link, it must operate on autonomous, preplanned mission, thus unable to transmit data in real time, unless it is assisted by other elements that could gain line-of-sight communications. The Iranians claim a drone of this class would have an operating radius of only 800 km, therefore, it could not fly all the way from Israel to Natanz, unless it was supported by forward basing in a neighbouring country. In the past Iran complained over its northern neighbour Azerbaijan’s warming relations with israel. In the past Turkey was also considered a close ally to Israel, which could provide Israeli drones or strike aircraft an access to fly recce or strike missions over Iran. But the deteriorating relations between Ankara and Jerusalem have put an end to this option.
The Iranian claim is interesting particularly due to their claims about the identity of the drone and its stealth attributes. The Iranians have recently fielded a radar system operating in a spectral range capable of effectively tracking stealthy targets. This radar could have helped to point air defense weapon systems on a relatively slow, straight flying target such as a large drone.[/ismember]
“Parts of the aircraft have burnt out after it was targeted by the ground-to-air missiles of the IRGC Aerospace Force and after its fuel tank blast, yet “some parts of this drone are intact and we are now analyzing the information and intel of these parts”, the Commander of the IRGC Aerospace Force Brigadier General Amir Ali Hajizadeh said.
“There was no prior information available about the aircraft and the only one of this type had been downed in Syria, but this one is more advanced,” General Hajizadeh said.
The IRGC has been preparing to deal with UAV threats as part of its operational planning and preparation. UAV operations and countermeasures are integrated in all major exercises, and these requirements are included in air-defense systems developed or modernized by the domestic military industries. Iran has been developing an increasingly sophisticated air defense system in recent years, since the US stepped up surveillance activities using state of the art stealth drones.
In 2011 Iran managed to capture a U.S. RQ-170 Sentinel stealth drone operated by the CIA. Iranian sources have claimed they managed to sieze control of the drone via sophisticated cyber attack. Iranian defenses have also downed several US drones in the last few years, including Scan Eagle tactical drones. The drone was the first such loss by the US. Tehran is believed to have acquired remains of Israeli Hermes 450 and Heron, which have crashed over Lebanon or Syria, which enabled the Iranians to reverse engineer these platforms in recent years.