China Steals Navy Drone: Act of War?

 In Foreign, Technology

Update: China returned the stolen Navy Drone on Tuesday, December 20, after what it called “friendly consultations.”

The USNS Bowditch was being shadowed by a Chinese ship in the South China Sea. When it deployed an underwater drone, the Chinese ship snatched it. It is being called an act of war by some officials.

The USNS Bowditch is a Pathfinder Class research ship operated by the Maritime Sealift Command. Its crew are civilians and scientists. The incident occurred at around noon on Thursday.

Give it back, please

The drone, a Slocum Glider, was ostensibly deployed to map the ocean floor. The Bowditch is often sent to map the ocean floor, which has military uses for submarines as well as civilian research.

According to Stratfor,

The latest episode appears to be a fairly bold move on China’s part. By taking physical action in the South China Sea, Beijing could be trying to assert its claims in the contested waters, many of which were likely undermined by the recent Permanent Court of Arbitration ruling against China’s artificial island construction. That said, based on statements by U.S. defense officials, the incident supposedly occurred more than 50 nautical miles from the Scarborough Shoal, China’s nearest territorial claim.

China is also, of course, attempting to address more direct security concerns. The underwater mapping that the Bowditch would have been engaged in can be used to support U.S. anti-submarine operations by identifying submarines’ most likely paths and, in doing so, improve the targeting and efficacy of anti-submarine monitoring and patrols.

The drone reportedly contained no classified data. The crew of the American ship watched the Chinese crew steal the drone, since they were less than a quarter mile away.

The State Department lodged a formal protest (demarche) with the Chinese government after ship-to-ship communications were refused by the Chinese.

Chinese Embassy officials refused to comment when contacted by Fox News. It’s unwise to say that China did this entirely because of Trump’s call to Taiwan, because tensions have been rising between the United States and China for some time over their creation of islands and airstrips in the South China Sea.

The Chinese government says they have militarized the islands by installing weapons.

Stealing a U.S. Navy drone could be construed as an act of war. Its valued is placed at $150,000. But in the rocky world of international politics, it represents much more.


Featured Photo: USNS Bowditch/Wikipedia

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