TEHRAN (AP) — Iran is now capable of manufacturing its own copies of an advanced CIA spy drone captured last year, a senior Iranian lawmaker said Wednesday.
Avaz Heidarpour, a member of the parliament's national security committee, said experts have reverse-engineered the RQ-170 Sentinel drone, and Iran now is capable of launching a production line for the unmanned aircraft.
"Iranian experts examined and analyzed the RQ-170 drone. Its parts were brought down so that all files and boards of the drone were copied and used to improve Iran's unmanned aircraft," he told the parliament's website, icana.ir, on Wednesday.
Mr. Heidarpour said production of RQ-170 drone cost the U.S. around $20 billion, but the expensive technology is now in Iran's possession through reverse engineering.
The Sentinel went down last December. Iran claimed it took control of it and landed it, but U.S. officials said the drone malfunctioned and had to land. They eventually confirmed the plane was monitoring Iran's military and nuclear facilities. Washington asked for it back, but Iran refused and instead released photos of Iranian officials studying the aircraft.
Iranian officials said the data recovered from the drone showed it did not carry out any missions on Iran's nuclear facilities.
Iranian officials frequently announce technological and military breakthroughs, most of which are impossible to confirm independently.
Mohammad Mahdinejad, Iran's deputy minister of science, research and technology, said last week that Tehran is exporting its domestically manufactured drones to several countries, including Syria and Venezuela.
Mr. Mahdinejad said that Iran is now a global leader in drone technology and that its export of drones to other countries demonstrated of Iran's advanced capability in designing and operating unmanned aircraft.
Mr. Heidarpour's comment came two days after Iran's Revolutionary Guard said it had decoded all data from the drone that went down near Iran's eastern border with Afghanistan.
Tehran previously said it had recovered information from the top-secret stealth aircraft, but the Guard's announcement suggested that technicians may have broken encryptions.
Last week, the Guard claimed it had captured another U.S. drone after it entered Iranian airspace over the Persian Gulf, showing an image of what it said was a Boeing-designed ScanEagle drone on state TV.
The ScanEagle is a small, relatively simple drone. The U.S. has said none of its drones was missing, but one or more might have fallen into the sea over the past months.
The Islamic Republic has been trumpeting its possession of the drones in an attempt to embarrass Washington over its alleged surveillance of Iran's disputed nuclear program.
Guard commanders said Iran had previously acquired a ScanEagle drone and produced a copy of it, but they have not provided evidence to back up their claim.
Last month, Tehran claimed that a U.S. drone violated its airspace. The Pentagon said an unmanned Predator aircraft came under fire at least twice while flying over international waters, but it was not hit.