An Indonesian fisher has found what experts said is likely a Chinese submarine drone in waters on a strategic maritime route from the South China Sea to Australia.
According to Indonesian media reports, the uncrewed underwater vehicle (UUV) was found on Sunday last week near Selayar Island in South Sulawesi. Six days later it was handed to police and transferred to the Indonesian military.
Military observers have said the drone appears to be a Chinese Sea Wing UUV, an underwater glider developed by the Shenyang Institute of Automation at the Chinese Academy of Sciences.
It is publicly described as collecting data including seawater temperature, salinity, turbidity and oxygen levels.
Information on currents and movement direction are transmitted in real time.
The Chinese central government has not commented.
The military-focused outlet Naval News said that UUV data can be extremely valuable to naval planners, in particular for submarine operations.
“The better a navy knows the waters, the better it is able to hide its submarines,” it said.
China has been accused of expansionist activities in the South China Sea and has conducted widespread oceanographic research in regions believed to be militarily significant.
In 2019, China conducted ocean surveys to the north of Papua New Guinea, where the US and Australia operate a joint naval base on Manus Island, and in March last year near Christmas Island, an Australian territory northwest of the main continent.
Submarines are known to transit in the area, the Australian Broadcasting Corp (ABC) reported.
Indonesian security analyst Muhammad Fauzan told the ABC that the drone was most likely mapping future submarine routes, given it was found far from Chinese waters and in a significant maritime route between China and Australia’s northernmost city of Darwin.
There were significant questions around whether the drone, if a Chinese instrument, was being used for intelligence gathering or illegal surveying, Fauzan said.
“It is at least the third time that such a drone, which I and many people including experts believe was a Chinese-made underwater drone, [has been] found in Indonesian territorial waters,” he said.
“But perhaps this latest discovery is a more significant one because first, it is reported that the drone is still active when the fishermen found it. They said that the drone was still moving and the light was still blinking and the forward sensors were still working. And this is the first time we have heard that the military publicly say that they have secured the drone and are conducting a full investigation of the drone which, according to the latest report, is currently being carried out in the second fleet headquarters of the Indonesian navy in Surabaya,” he said.
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