Iranian F-4 Phantom jets fail to intercept U.S. Predator off Iran. Once again. Scared by F-22 escort?

According to a statement by Pentagon Press Secretary George Little, on Mar. 12, an IRIAF (Islamic Republic of Iran Air Force) combat plane attempted to intercept a U.S. MQ-1 drone flying in international airspace.

As happened on Nov. 1, 2012, when two Sukhoi Su-25 attack planes operated by the Pasdaran (informal name of the IRGC – the Army of the Guardians of the Islamic Revolution) attempted to shoot down an American MQ-1 flying a routine surveillance flight in international airspace some 16 miles off Iran, the interception of the unmanned aircraft failed.

Interestingly, the last close encounter was unsuccessful because the fighter jets scrambled to intercept the unarmed U.S. drone were discouraged from accomplishing the mission: at least one of the two F-4 Phantom jets came to about 16 miles from the UAV but broke off pursuit after they were broadcast a warning message by two American planes escorting the Predator.

Clearly, following last year’s close encounter the Pentagon has decided to escort the drones involved in intelligence gathering missions with fighter jets (either F-18 Hornets with the CVW 9 embarked on the USS John C. Stennis whose Carrier Strike Group is currently in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of responsibility or F-22 Raptors like those deployed to the UAE).

Although dispatching fighter jets to escort drones makes them less vulnerable, it makes also the UAV more visible. Unless the fighter jets providing HVAAE (High Value Air Asset Escort) are F-22 stealth fighters.

Few days ago, Iran recovered from sea a mysterious drone; most probably an Iranian one.

Image credit: U.S. Air Force

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About David Cenciotti
David Cenciotti is a journalist based in Rome, Italy. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviationist”, one of the world’s most famous and read military aviation blogs. Since 1996, he has written for major worldwide magazines, including Air Forces Monthly, Combat Aircraft, and many others, covering aviation, defense, war, industry, intelligence, crime and cyberwar. He has reported from the U.S., Europe, Australia and Syria, and flown several combat planes with different air forces. He is a former 2nd Lt. of the Italian Air Force, a private pilot and a graduate in Computer Engineering. He has written five books and contributed to many more ones.


    • Why is it demeaning/embarrassing? Bet you the pilots wanted to fly the mission “Iranian airplane bait” and get some kills in for once.

      • Yeah, but the purpose of a drone is to keep your personnel out of harm’s way. If you have live pilots escorting your drones, you have defeated the purpose.

        • Unless said drone has better operating capability and performance than current equivalent manned aircraft, at which point the main purpose is not to keep personnel out of harm’s way.

    • Not nearly as demeaning as “escorting” the secret service then getting stiffed on the bill.

  1. It’s quite understandable for UAV’s to be escorted in conditions where they will face high performance fighter jets like the F-4’s. Otherwise US will have one less drone, Iran will have one more drone kill, without repercussions.
    But, with the escort, an Iranian provoked engagement where US losing a drone followed by Iran losing an whole air wing would be quite a welcome event, very much in line with US foreign policy. People deciding what these toys will do think this way, usually, and they’re not willing to lose or risk losing any asset without any potential gain.

  2. It does seem to make the drone a farce though. Why not just revert to high altitude U2 or bring back the SR-71? Unless of course the objective is to take down the odd Iranian aircraft “in defence”.

    • Two reasons, the sr-71 flies too high and fast, and the U2 flies too high for what the predator drone was more likely than not doing. It (the predator) was probably skimming Iranian airspace with nucealer and radiation material detectors that can literally sniff the air. Neither the U2 nor SR-71 are capable of doing that at the altitudes required. If the mission was about observation, the U2 would have been deployed.

  3. My advice is for the US Navy to attach a few camera’s on the F-22’s and send them for intelligence gathering rather then making 2 of them to escort one predator. And please when the Iranian F-4’s fire at the F-22’s they should not make two F-35’s to escort each one of the F-22’s. Rather use common sense and attach a few camera’s on the F-35’s and send them in….Preposterous!

    • The U.S. Navy does not fly F-22’s, and the F-35 is still going through it’s training process. The Navy’s F-35C will
      most likely the last variant to deploy.

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