WASHINGTON – Iranian jets shot at a U.S. Predator drone flying a surveillance mission over international waters in the Persian Gulf but missed, the Pentagon said Thursday.
Iranian SU-25 fighters intercepted and fired twice at the unarmed drone just before 5 a.m. Washington time on Nov. 1, Pentagon Press Secretary George Little said at a Pentagon press conference. None of the bullets hit the Predator, a diminutive propeller-powered plane far slower and smaller than the jets, and it returned to base undamaged.
How could the jets have missed such a defenseless target? The SU-25 was designed for close air support, much like a U.S. A-10 jet, so its pilots might not be experts in air-to-air combat, Pentagon officials said Thursday. But the Pentagon believes the Iranian planes weren’t just firing warning shots.
“Our working assumption is they fired to take it down,” Little said. “We were not warned in advance that they were going to fire on this aircraft.”
Little said the drone was flying approximately 16 nautical miles off Iran’s coast in the tense Persian Gulf, the site of an ongoing military standoff between the United States and Iran over the regime’s nuclear ambitions.
American officials have told the Iranians the U.S. has a right to fly missions in the area and would continue to do so, Little said.
“Our aircraft was never in Iranian airspace; it was always flying in international airspace,” he said. “We never entered the 12 nautical mile limit.”
Little said it was the first time a U.S. unmanned aircraft has been fired upon in the Persian gulf.
The incident, initially reported on CNN soon before Thursday’s briefing, should never have come to light because surveillance missions are classified, Little added.
“This is an unauthorized disclosure of classified information,” he said.