Barbara Starr, CNN
Iranian military aircraft targeted a U.S. Predator drone over the Persian Gulf this week, administration officials said. It was the latest in Iranian efforts to thwart the U.S. military's airborne intelligence collections efforts in the region.
Three administration officials have separately confirmed details of the incident, although the Pentagon has not publicly acknowledged it.
The drone was flying in international airspace off Oman when Iran detected it and launched its own manned aircraft, according to the officials who have direct knowledge of the incident. The Iranian planes then shadowed the drone, which eventually left the area. No shots were fired. However, the officials said the U.S. is concerned about Iranian intentions in incidents like this and whether it could unintentionally trigger hostility.
"They have done this before. We are fully prepared to defend our aircraft. We were definitely in international airspace," one of the officials said.
In December 2011, a highly sensitive U.S. Sentinel drone gathering intelligence on Iran's nuclear program for the CIA was captured by Iran after it crashed. In November, an Iranian warplane fired on a Predator over the Gulf.
The U.S. account of the incident comes after Iran's Press TV reported Tuesday that its military "identified and repelled an American U2 reconnaissance plane that was trying to intrude into Iranian airspace above the Sea of Oman." U.S. officials say, in fact, that it was a unmanned.
Predator drone involved in the incident. They point out that the U2 is a high-altitude manned reconnaissance plane that Iran would find very difficult to detect.
The use of U.S. drones so close to Iran remains a highly sensitive issue for U.S. military intelligence. The aircraft are capable of using sensors to gather information about Iranian military movements. There have been a number of previous encounters.