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.
Dan Goure, an analyst at the Lexington Institute, stated the largely intact airframe ruled out the possibility of an engine or navigational malfunction: "Either this was a cyber/electronic warfare attack system that brought the system down or it was a glitch in the command-and-control system."
A Christian Science Monitor article relates an Iranian engineer's assertion that the drone was captured by jamming both satellite and land-originated control signals to the UAV, followed up by a GPS spoofing attack that fed the UAV false GPS data to make it land in Iran at what the drone thought was its home base in Afghanistan. In an interview for Nova, U.S. retired Lt. General David Deptula also said "There was a problem with the aircraft and it landed in an area it wasn't supposed to land".
Stephen Trimble from Flight Global assumes UAV guidance could be targeted by 1L222 Avtobaza radar jamming and deception system supplied to Iran by Russia.
On 5 December 2011, U.S. military sources confirmed that the remains of an RQ-170 had been captured by Iranian forces. However, media reports indicated that various U.S. officials declined to confirm whether or not the drone in the video released by Iranian state television was authentic. On 8 December 2011, a senior U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told the Washington Post that the U.S. cannot be certain the drone shown was real because the U.S. does not have access to it, but also stated that "We have no indication that it was brought down by hostile fire." A second senior U.S. military official said that a major question is how the drone could have remained "virtually intact," given the high altitude from which it is said to have crashed. U.S. Navy Captain John Kirby, a Pentagon spokesman, told a news conference on 8 December 2011 that Pentagon analysts were examining the video. Both Kirby and fellow spokesman George Little would not comment further on whether the U.S. military believed the drone was the one missing, both did say that the missing drone had not been recovered. However, later that day, CBS reported that the US officials have confirmed in private the authenticity of the drone shown by the Iranians.
Various experts interviewed by CNN stated that the drone looked real and noted a lack of damage that a firefight would have inflicted. They posited that system failure such as a "flat spin" or "falling leaf departure" would have resulted in damage to the belly of the aircraft but little damage to other components.
On 7 February 2013, Iran released a video footage from the RQ-170 stealth plane showing it coming for landing in Kandahar base. Commander of the Aerospace Division of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) Brigadier General Amir-Ali Hajizadeh said in December that all the data on the downed drone were “fully decoded.”