U.S. to Iran: Now You've Drone It!

Air forces square off in another high-flying engagement.

Armed Predator drone

The military is currently working on upgrading drones so that they can fly in "hostile environments" like the Middle East and Africa, says Lt. Gen. Larry James.

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The Iranian air force has buzzed a U.S. surveillance drone again, the Pentagon reports.

An MQ-1 Predator drone was flying over international waters in the Arabian Gulf on March 12 when an Iranian F-4 began tailing it, Pentagon spokesman George Little said on Thursday. The American drone was unarmed, he said. The Iranian jet never came closer than within 16 miles of it.

[PHOTOS: Iran Flexes Military Muscle in Persian Gulf]

Two military aircraft were escorting the drone, Little said. He originally reported that one of them discharged a flare "as a warning to the Iranian plane" to ceased its pursuit. The Pentagon later clarified that the aircraft never discharged a flare, and the Iranian jet ceased pursuit after a "verbal warning."

All U.S. aircraft were operating in international airspace the entire time, he said.

This follows reports last November that an Iranian jet fired on an unmanned U.S. drone just before Iran began massive, preplanned war games. Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, said that this was a "hostile act" and part of a long line of disturbing activities from the Middle Eastern nation.

[READ: Iran's Drone-Downing Claims 'Garbage,' Expert Says]

Two Russian-made SU-25 fighter jets opened fire on the drone in November in two separate bursts roughly 16 miles off the Iranian coast. It is unclear if the fighters were trying to hit the drone of if they just missed.

"We're absolutely certain that we were within international airspace, so their attack on the unmanned Predator—despite their assertions otherwise—was clearly a hostile act against our assets," he said in the statement.

After this incident, the U.S. communicated to the Iranians it would continue to conduct surveillance flights over international waters "consistent with long-standing practice and our commitment to the security of the region," Little said in the Thursday statement.

"We also communicated that we reserve the right to protect our military assets as well as our forces and will continue to do so going forward," he said.

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Corrected on : Updated 3/15/13: This article was updated to include a correction from the Pentagon that U.S. aircraft did not deploy a flare, as a spokesman originally reported.