Oceanographic Survey USV Taken off Philippines On 15 December, according to a statement by US DoD Press Secretary Peter Cook, Chinese naval forces seized an oceanographic survey USV in the process of being recovered by the USNS BOWDITCH of Military Sealift Command.
The USV, a relatively unsophisticated LBS-Glider system, of which the USN operates about 100-150, is normally operated for weeks at a time in gathering and transmitting oceanographic data for mine and amphibious warfare intelligence analysis and mission preparation. The extent to which the Chinese may be able to reverse-engineer anything from their prize that is relevant to their own extensive efforts in unmanned maritime systems is unknown, but has given rise to a degree of speculation among defence analysts in Washington and elsewhere. In any event, the seizure is arguably a violation of normal navigational freedoms.
The following is the complete statement issued by Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook: “Using appropriate government-to-government channels, the Department of Defense has called upon China to immediately return an unmanned underwater vehicle (UUV) that China unlawfully seized on 15 December in the South China Sea while it was being recovered by a US.Navy oceanographic survey ship. The USNS BOWDITCH (T-AGS 62) and the UUV — an unclassified ‘ocean glider’ system used around the world to gather military oceanographic data such as salinity, water temperature, and sound speed – were conducting routine operations in accordance with international law about 50 nautical miles northwest of Subic Bay, Philippines, when a Chinese Navy PRC DALANG III-class ship (ASR-510) launched a small boat and retrieved the UUV. Bowditch made contact with the PRC Navy ship via bridge-to-bridge radio to request the return of the UUV. The radio contact was acknowledged by the PRC Navy ship, but the request was ignored. The UUV is a sovereign immune vessel of the United States. We call upon China to return our UUV immediately, and to comply with all of its obligations under international law.”