Is China’s Fleet of Underwater Ocean Drones for Science, or Military Power?


F-chinadrone-a-20161218 (1)


China has deployed underwater drones -torpedo-shaped vehicles — called Haiyi, or sea wings in Mandarin- in the strategic South China Sea waterway for scientific purposes where they will remain underwater for a month, according to reports. In March, one device hit a depth of 6,329 meters, breaking an earlier record held by a U.S. vessel, Xinhua said. But observers ask is the technology actually being used as a political and military tool to secure its territorial ambitions. Beijing claims a massive section of the South China Sea that extends roughly 1,000 miles from its southern shores.

Late last month, Beijing dropped a dozen of the underwater drones, also known as unmanned underwater vehicles, in an unspecified location in the international waterway to carry out “scientific observations,” state-run media outlet Xinhua reported. The huge area China claims is home to significant energy deposits and the world’s busiest shipping routes, but Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan also assert sovereign rights over parts of the international waterway.

The use of autonomous drones raises a number of questions as to whether Beijing is deploying the technology to support its aggressive expansion in the geopolitical hotspot.

“It is a clear attempt to signal a capability associated with leading powers in terms of technology, which often translates to prestige,” said Margaret Kosal, an associate professor at Georgia Tech who specializes in the role of emerging technologies for security.

 In the image at the top of the page, crew members aboard the VOS Raasay recover U.S. and British Royal Navy ocean gliders taking part in an exercise off the coast of Scotland in October. A similar underwater vehicle was seized by China off the Philippines on Thursday. (AFP-JIJI)

The Daily Galaxy via Xinhua and CNBC


"The Galaxy" in Your Inbox, Free, Daily