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‘Missile-Like' Object Found in Indonesian Waters Is a Chinese Underwater Drone, Says Defense Analyst

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  • Defense analytics firm Janes has identified the missile-like object, found last month in Indonesian waters, as the Chinese-built autonomous underwater glider Haiyi or "sea wing."
  • It was the third identical underwater glider found in Indonesian waters within two years, said Kelvin Wong, Janes' principal unmanned systems analyst.
  • Underwater gliders are typically used to conduct scientific research on the underwater environment, but the information can also be useful for naval operations, said Wong.

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

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

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

It's not known where and why the drone was originally deployed, but the location where it was found is "disconnected from international waterways and extremely remote from China's adjacent maritime claims," said the analyst.

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

Military use

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

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

"Superior knowledge of a region's waters can enable submarines to operate more quietly and reduce the likelihood of discovery," said Wong.

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

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

Wong pointed out that the latest underwater gliders found by Indonesian were near strategic waterways and chokepoints. It implies that data gathered 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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