Iran says captures 2 US-made miniature surveillance drones

DUBAI (REUTERS) - Iran has captured two miniature US-made surveillance drones over the past 17 months, Iranian media reported on Wednesday.

Several drone incidents over the past year have highlighted tension in the Gulf as Iran and the United States flex their military capabilities in the vital oil exporting region in a standoff over Iran's disputed nuclear programme.

The lightweight RQ11 Raven drones were brought down by Iranian air defence units in separate incidents in August 2011 and November 2012, Rear Admiral Amir Rastegari told Fars news agency.

"Much of the data of these drones has been decoded by the Army's jihad and research centre," he said, without elaborating.

Manufactured by AeroVironment, the RQ11 Raven has a wingspan of 1.36 metres and a range of 10 kilometres and is used by the U.S. military for low-altitude surveillance.

Iran said on Dec. 4 that it had captured a U.S. intelligence ScanEagle drone in its air space over the Gulf in the previous few days, but the United States said there was no evidence to support the assertion.

The US Navy said had not lost any unmanned aircraft in the area. The 1.25 metre ScanEagle surveillance drones built by Boeing Co are deployed in the region by the United States military and also by other countries.

In November, the United States said Iranian warplanes shot at a U.S drone flying in international air space. Iran said the aircraft had entered its air space to spy on Iranian oil platforms and said it would respond "decisively" to any incursions.