US drone fired at over Gulf

Iranian warplanes are said to be responsible for firing at a US drone.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad

WASHINGTON - Iranian warplanes fired at an unarmed US drone in international airspace last week and missed, according to the Pentagon.

This act disclosed details of an unprecedented incident that triggered a formal warning to Tehran through diplomatic channels.

This was the first time Tehran had fired at an unmanned American aircraft, a stark reminder of how quickly tensions between the United States and Iran could escalate.

If Iran had hit the drone, as the Pentagon believes it was trying to do, it could have forced American retaliation, with the potential consequences that entails.

According to the timeline provided by the Pentagon, two Iranian SU-25 "Frogfoot" aircraft intercepted the American drone as it conducted a routine, but classified, surveillance mission over Gulf waters about 16 nautical miles off the Iranian coast.

Pentagon spokesman George Little said the aircraft fired multiple rounds at the Predator drone and followed it for at least several miles as it moved farther away from Iranian airspace.

"We believe that they fired at least twice and made at least two passes," he said.

International airspace begins after 12 nautical miles and last year, a crashed CIA drone was recovered inside Iran.

US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta was quickly notified of the incident, as were members of Congress and the White House.

The United States sent Iran a warning through diplomatic channels, saying it would defend its military assets and would keep sending aircraft on such surveillance operations.

There was no immediate comment by Iranian officials.