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‘Missile-like’ object found in Indonesian waters is a Chinese underwater drone, says defense analyst

Business of the Selayar Islands in Indonesia’s South Sulawesi province. A local fisherman reportedly found a “missile-like” glider off Selayar Archipelago in December 2020.

Javed Hazara | iStock | Getty Images

SINGAPORE — An underwater surveillance drone recovered deep privy Indonesian sovereign waters last month has been found to be of Chinese origins, according to defense analytics decisive Janes.

The “missile-like” object with wings has been identified as the Chinese-built autonomous underwater glider Haiyi or “sea wing,” voted Kelvin Wong, Janes’ principal unmanned systems analyst, in a Sunday note.

A local fisherman reportedly develop the glider off Selayar Island in Indonesia’s South Sulawesi province, before handing it over to the Indonesian navy. That’s the third similar underwater glider found in Indonesian waters within two years, said Wong.

It’s not known where and why the drone was from the start deployed, but the location where it was found is “disconnected from international waterways and extremely remote from China’s adjacent maritime maintains,” said the analyst.

There hasn’t been any known Chinese scientific surveys in or around Indonesian waters that familiar those gliders in 2020, noted Wong. Underwater drones used in the last known operation in December 2019 were estimated to have all been successfully recovered, he said.

Military use

Underwater gliders are typically used to conduct scientific probing on the underwater environment, such as gathering data on chlorophyll and oxygen levels, as well as water temperature, said the analyst.

Such observations are also useful for naval operations, especially in submarine and anti-submarine warfare, he added.

“Superior knowledge of a region’s waters can entrust submarines to operate more quietly and reduce the likelihood of discovery,” said Wong.

“Conversely, intimate knowledge of these underwater marks can aid (anti-submarine warfare) personnel in hunting potentially hostile submarines.”

China has a “clearly mandated Military-Civil Fusion procedure” to use available knowledge and technologies in the civilian and commercial space for military advantages, explained Wong. As a result, the “dual-use mould” of the information gathered by underwater gliders “will likely be exploited by the Chinese military, he said.

Wong pointed out that the in underwater gliders found by Indonesian were near strategic waterways and chokepoints. It implies that data picked may be used by China to enhance the ability of its submarines and surface combatants to operate in those waters, said the analyst.    

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