Video of Iranian-operated drone allegedly surveilling American warships uses manipulated footage

The video uses old and computer-generated footage, according to an analysis by the Observers team.
The video uses old and computer-generated footage, according to an analysis by the Observers team.

Drone footage allegedly showing Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGG) surveilling American warships in the Persian Gulf was in fact pieced together from a mix of manipulated and old footage, according to an analysis by the France 24 Observers team.

The video, published by the IRGC on April 28, showed the flight deck of an aircraft carrier and was used to advance the claim that Iran was spying on the American military, just weeks after Washington placed the group on its list of terrorist organisations.

Satellite images indicate that the footage was taken earlier

The video opens with images taken by an Iranian drone, Ababil-3, a rather unsophististicated model. After a few online searches, we found that the footage was taken on an airfield on Qeshm Island in the Strait of Hormuz, which is frequently used by the Iranian military to test drones.

Satellite images from Google Earth help locate the buildings seen in the video.

A comparison of the video and satellite images shows that the video was taken on the Qeshm Island airfield.

But the footage is old. Using Google Earth satellite images, we determined that the video was taken prior to December 2017, when work was undertaken to extend the landing strip. Photos taken after that date show that the surface area of the landing strip is increasing, while the one seen in the video resembles the strip before work began.

Satellite images indicate that construction of the airfield began around December 2017.

A few missing details

Let's take a look at the overhead view of the aircraft carrier. The images are of good quality, but there are no markers in the viewfinder, like GPS coordinates and image scale, that are usually included in footage taken by military drones. The images allegedly taken by the IRGC drone were in fact generated by a computer.

This is further supported by the fact that the aircraft are missing key identifying factors. The planes on the flight deck do not have inscriptions that would allow us to determine their registration number and the unit to which they belong. The military ships are also missing these details, though the aircraft carrier emblazoned with the number 69 appears to be a reproduction of USS Dwight D. Eisenhower.

The ships and aircraft seen in the video are missing key identifying details.

"Every American aircraft has a number and an insignia," David Axe, a military journalist for the international affairs magazine National Interest, said. "But it's not hard to fake a video of ships in the sea."


An F-18, with several idenfitying inscriptions, taking off from an aircraft carrier.

There are numerous online simulators, including this one, that can generate high-quality special effects for video games and other computer-generated footage, which often feature unmarked planes like the ones in the recent video.


Old drone images

Other drone footage, this time featuring military drone indicators, is seen in the third part of the video. They are in fact real images of the USS Eisenhower taken by Iranian-operated drones. The GPS coordinates seen on the screen indicate that the footage was taken between 50 and 70 kilometers from Qeshm.

But it is highly unlikely that the footage was taken recently. The USS Eisenhower has been docked in Virginia for maintenance work since August 2017. The Army also confirmed that the images were authentic, but dated from 2016.

Our analysis shows that the video published last week does not show the Iranian military spying on the American fleet, as the Revolutionary Guard claimed. But the drones operated by the Iranian military have been known to follow American activity in the area, and the U.S. Navy has previously criticised the drones for coming too close to their ships.

This story was written by Ershad Alijani.