WASHINGTON — U.S. flight crews in the Persian Gulf region will shift to active air defense tactics in the wake of the shoot-down of an unarmed, unmanned U.S. drone by Iran, Pentagon officials told TMN.
The shift in flight mode is a result of increased threats from Iranian surface-to-air missiles that Tehran has become more ready to use, Pentagon officials said on background, as they are not authorized to speak on the record.
The U.S. surveillance drone downed by Iran on Wednesday was about 20 miles off the Iranian coast, according to a statement read to reporters Thursday.
“At the time of the intercept, the RQ-4 (the drone) was operating at high-altitude approximately 34 kilometers from the nearest point of land on the Iranian coast,” Lt. Gen. Joseph Guastella, commander, U.S. Air Forces Central Command, told reporters.
“Iranian reports that this aircraft was shot down over Iran are categorically false,” he said. “The aircraft was over the Strait of Hormuz and fell into international waters.”
The Pentagon released a map of the incident and a video to buttress their position. The video showing the smoke trail after the Global Hawk was shot down can be found at https://www.dvidshub.net/video/691383/smoke-trail-shot-down-global-hawk.
“This was an unprovoked attack on a U.S. surveillance asset that had not violated Iranian airspace at any time during its mission,” Guastella told reporters. “This attack is an attempt to disrupt our ability to monitor the area following recent threats to international shipping and free flow of commerce.”
The drone was downed by an Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps surface-to-air missile fired from near Goruk, Iran, Guastella said.
President Donald Trump said Thursday that an Iranian individual may have “made a mistake” in targeting and attacking the drone, stressing that the drone was unmanned.
“We didn’t have a man or woman in the drone,” Trump said, according to the White House pool report. “It would have made a big, big difference.”
The White House is inviting congressional leaders to a Situation Room briefing on Iran at the White House on Thursday afternoon, according to reports.
Pentagon officials, speaking on background, said the drone likely was piloted from Naval Air Station Jacksonville, Fla. Ground personnel in the United Arab Emirates would be responsible for launch, mission prep, maintenance and any recovery, the officials said.