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Iran claims capture of drone; Navy says none are missing

| Tuesday, Dec. 4, 2012, 9:00 p.m.

DUBAI — Iran said on Tuesday it had captured a U.S. intelligence ScanEagle drone in its airspace over the gulf in the last few days, but the United States said there was no evidence to support the assertion.

The Navy said it had not lost any unmanned aircraft in the area.

The four-foot surveillance drones built by Boeing Co. are deployed in the region by the United States military and also by other countries.

In Washington, White House spokesman Jay Carney said: “We have no evidence that the Iranian claims are true.”

The incident highlighted tensions in the gulf as Iran and the United States demonstrate their military capabilities in the vital oil exporting region in a standoff over Iran's disputed nuclear programme.

Iran has repeatedly threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz — through which about 40 percent of the world's seaborne crude oil is shipped — if it comes under attack. U.S. commanders have said they will not let that happen.

The Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps said on its website that the drone had been flying over the gulf in the last few days and was “captured” when it strayed into Iranian airspace.

A spokesman for U.S. Naval Forces Central Command in Bahrain said none of its drones was missing.

“The U.S. Navy has fully accounted for all unmanned air vehicles (UAV) operating in the Middle East region. Our operations in the gulf are confined to internationally recognized water and air space,” Commander Jason Salata said.

The ScanEagle is an “off the shelf” spy plane manufactured by Insitu, a unit of U.S.-based Boeing. The company also supplies and operates drones for customers in several Middle Eastern countries, including to help ensure oil platform security in the gulf, according to its website.

The U.S. military has been using the ScanEagle spy planes since 2004 and they have become a relatively inexpensive way for the United States and others to conduct surveillance.

Jill Vacek, a spokeswoman for Boeing subsidiary Insitu, said the company had built 1,685 of the aircraft. Other military customers include Canada, Australia, Poland, the Netherlands, Singapore, Malaysia, and Japan, as well as “other U.S. Department of Defense customers,” she said.

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