Former Air Force Drone Chief Discusses Escalating U.S.-Iran Tensions NPR's Mary Louise Kelly speaks with Gen. David Deptula, former Air Force drone chief, about the escalating tensions between U.S and Iranian forces.

Former Air Force Drone Chief Discusses Escalating U.S.-Iran Tensions

Former Air Force Drone Chief Discusses Escalating U.S.-Iran Tensions

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NPR's Mary Louise Kelly speaks with Gen. David Deptula, former Air Force drone chief, about the escalating tensions between U.S and Iranian forces.


And a little piece of news here to insert - Iran's spokesperson at the United Nations has tweeted and said, and I'll quote, "while Iran does not seek war, it reserves its inherent right to take all appropriate and necessary measures against any hostile act and is determined to vigorously defend its land, sea and air." That is the Iranian spokesperson to the U.N. just tweeting there. So let's bring in another voice to help us sort all this out. Retired Lieutenant General Dave Deptula - he is a retired U.S. Air Force officer. He commanded the air campaign over Afghanistan in 2001, along with a lot of other military operations in his time, and he joins us now.

General, welcome.

DAVE DEPTULA: Hey. Good afternoon, Mary Louise.

KELLY: Hi - so glad to have you with us. And let me start here. Just to recap this war of words, Iran says the U.S. is lying about where the drone was shot down. The U.S. says Iran is lying. How are we likely to know? How will this be resolved beyond a take one person's word over the other situation? How do they figure that out?

DEPTULA: Well, first, there is, obviously, the release of the actual location data for where the BAMS or Broad Area Maritime Surveillance aircraft was flying. That - hopefully, it will be released shortly by Central Command. But part of it, too, Mary Louise, is the fact that there's absolutely no reason for this aircraft to have to fly over Iran to gather the data that the U.S. military was interested in gathering.

KELLY: You're saying there's circumstantial evidence that just - why would it have been there? - which tends to support the U.S. position.

DEPTULA: Well, right. And no U.S. commander - speaking from experience - would put the aircraft in that kind of a situation. And for your audience, that reason is that, unlike aircraft - surveillance aircraft in the past, the kind of sensor systems that are onboard this drone are such that they can see dozens and dozens and dozens of miles away from the aircraft. So, you know, it's flying up above 50,000 feet over the Strait of Hormuz. It can monitor the entire strait plus see inside Iran without having to fly over it.

KELLY: Just a little bit more detail, if you would, on this...


KELLY: ...Specific drone - we're told it was an RQ-4 Global Hawk surveillance drone. Do you have any sense of how many of those are out flying over the region, how widely used they are? What intel are they collecting?

DEPTULA: Well, my understanding is the aircraft was an RQ-4 BAMS-D, which is one of the early Block 10 Global Hawks that the Air Force had and then shifted it over to the Navy as a test bed for a later variant of the BAMS-D to be procured later on. So it is a - it, in essence, is a Global Hawk high-altitude, long-endurance unmanned aircraft.

KELLY: And a surveillance drone, so it's collecting...

DEPTULA: Correct.

DEPTULA: ...Video, photos - not weaponized, not - no missiles or anything like that. OK.

DEPTULA: No, there are absolutely no weapons on this aircraft. There are three types of sensors that it can carry - electro-optical, infrared and radar. And the Navy has a particular sensor known as the Multi-Function Active Sensor, which is the first radar system that can provide 360 degree persistent coverage of both the open...

KELLY: Right.

DEPTULA: ...Seas and littoral regions.

KELLY: So the bottom line here is Iran has now shot a U.S. plane out of the sky. I'll put to you the same question we just put to Mara Liasson.


KELLY: Any sense of what the U.S. response will be?

DEPTULA: Well, as you might imagine, there are a variety of courses of action that the Department of Defense, specifically the commanders in Central Command, have provided to the president and the National Security staff. And they will take a look at those and put those in context vis-a-vis the diplomatic and political actions that are also occurring as this is going on and determine one or another. And they run the entire gamut from, you know, a non-lethal response to more lethal actions...

KELLY: To forceful military response, right.

DEPTULA: Yeah, taking out the service to air missile systems that are in the vicinity. Some of...


DEPTULA: A lesser option would be to set up a no-sailing zone around the tankers.

KELLY: General Deptula, thank you. We have to leave it there. That's Dave Deptula.

Thank you so much for your time. We appreciate it.

DEPTULA: All right. Take care, Mary Louise.

KELLY: He's dean of the Mitchell Institute of Airpower Studies.

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