A military official gives a tour of an intact RQ-170 drone in a hangar to another Iranian military official.
President Barack Obama said today the U.S. has requested that Iran return the highly sensitive stealth drone that crash landed there two weeks ago, but an Iranian general already said that's not going to happen.
"We've asked for it back. We'll see how the Iranians respond," Obama said at a news conference. Obama said he wouldn't comment further "on intelligence matters that are classified."
A senior Iranian military commander, however, said on Iranian television Sunday that not only would Iran not turn over the drone, but warned of a "bigger response" to the "hostile act" of crossing into Iranian airspace.
"No one returns the symbol of aggression to the party that sought secret and vital intelligence related to the national security of a country," Iranian Islamic Revolution Guards Corps [IRGC] Lt. Commander Gen. Hossein Salami said, according to Iran's Fars News Agency.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said told reporters today that "given Iran's behavior to date, we do not expect them to comply" with Obama's request. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta also said he didn't expect Iran to hand over the drone, but told reporters, "I think it's important to make that request."
Several Iranian state-run media reports claim the country plans to "reverse engineer" the RQ-170 Sentinel and "will replicate the captured U.S.-built stealth aircraft in the future." In another report featured on Iranian television, an Iranian lawmaker claimed the country's experts were almost finished extracting data from the drone and would be using some of it to file a lawsuit against the U.S. for its "invasion," according to a report by The Associated Press.
"Military experts are well aware how precious the technological information of this drone is," IRGC Aerospace Forces Brig. Gen. Amir Ali Hajizadeh said last week according to local reports. "It can play a key role in Iran's intelligence interactions with the U.S. rivals."
The Sentinel, an unarmed long-range surveillance drone known as The Beast of Kandahar, was such a closely held secret that the U.S. Air Force did not even acknowledge its existence until late 2009.
Panetta said it was unclear what technological value the drone could still have, depending on its condition.
"It's a little difficult to know just frankly how much they are going to be able to get from having obtained those parts," Panetta said. "I don't know the condition of those parts -- I don't know exactly what state they're in -- so it's a little difficult to tell what they are going to be able to derive from what they have been able to get."
According to U.S. officials, the drone was on a classified surveillance mission for the CIA in western Afghanistan when operators lost control due to a malfunction. From there, the drone glided into Iranian airspace before crashing.
The Iranian military initially claimed it had "shot down" the drone, but later said it was able to bring it down with relatively little damage through an electronic attack. Pentagon spokesperson Capt. John Kirby told reporters last week there was no indication the drone was brought down by "hostile activity of any kind."
Late last week Iran presented a nearly pristine-looking aircraft that closely resembled the RQ-170 on national television, which the Iranian military claimed to be the captured drone.