February 22, 2013: Iran says it is mass producing copies of the American ScanEagle UAV. This is a low-tech, commercially available UAV that contains no classified components. Iran released photos of their production facility, but did not present any of the completed UAVs. Iran could have built a ScanEagle clone without copying from one they had obtained (either from a crash or the black market). The ScanEagle assembly line picture could have simply been Photoshopped, a technique Iran has been caught using numerous times.
Last December Iran insisted it had captured a U.S. Navy ScanEagle UAV. The U.S. said none of its ScanEagles were missing. Iran then released a photo of the captured Scan Eagle. But the photo showed a ScanEagle without military markings, that appeared to have been reassembled after a crash. The U.S. did reveal that several ScanEagles had been lost over the last few years (due to communications or mechanical failures) in Afghanistan and the Persian Gulf and the wreckage was not recovered. This is where Iran might have obtained their ScanEagle. In any event, stunts like this are mainly for raising morale among Iranian civilians depressed over economic problems. It doesn’t really matter what the U.S. says or does.
A ScanEagle weighs 19 kg (40 pounds), has a 3.2 meter (ten foot) wingspan, and uses day and night video cameras. This makes it easier for the UAV, flying over land or water, to spot small speed boats or individual vehicles. The commercial version of ScanEagle has been in service for a decade, to help high seas fishing ships find schools of fish to go after. Cruising speed is 110 kilometers an hour. The ScanEagle can stay in the air for up to 15 hours per flight and fly as high as 5 kilometers (16,000 feet). The aircraft carries an optical system that is stabilized to keep the cameras focused on an object while the UAV moves. The UAV can operate at least a hundred kilometers from the ground controller. The ScanEagle is launched from a catapult and landed via a wing hook that catches a rope hanging from a 16 meter (fifty foot) pole. This makes it possible to operate the UAV from the helicopter pad on the stern (rear) of a warship or any open space on a seagoing fishing ship.
Each ScanEagle costs about $100,000 and is still widely used by commercial fishing, ocean survey, and research ships, as well as military organizations in several countries. ScanEagle has been in military service since 2005.