On 20th December, a fisherman off the coast of Bonerate Island, Indonesia, pulled up an unusual catch; an Unmanned Underwater Vehicle (UUV). Being a somewhat remote area, it took him a few days to make contact with the local authorities, who informed the Indonesian military. They subsequently took possession of the mysterious drone on 28th December and are investigating.
The vehicle appears to be a Chinese Sea Wing “glider”. These vehicles are not powered by a conventional engine, instead using variable-buoyancy propulsion. This uses a “balloon” that is inflated and deflated with pressurized oil and the subsequent changes in depth allow the vehicle to “glide” through the water with its wings.
As a result UUVs like the Sea Wing can stay at sea for months, conducting autonomous surveys that have both civilian and military applications. Normally they are used for monitoring salinity and oceanographic conditions, which are extremely important factors in sonar performance on anti-submarine vessels and weapons.
This latest discovery is the second such event, with a Sea Wing being recovered last year by another Indonesian fisherman. Though there is speculation that the recently recovered drone may have been conducting a survey on behalf of the Indonesian government, the swift reaction of the military and subsequent lack of official statement makes it seem that this is likely a foreign operation; most likely Chinese. Certainly, the reaction of Indonesian citizens on Twitter has been quite vocal:
With the waters that the drone being found in being deep into Indonesian territory, and far from any Chinese claims, the find is certain to raise eyebrows. Close to Australia and in waters thought to have gas and oil reserves, these waters are of great interest to Beijing for economic and defense reasons.
With UUVs becoming a very common, albeit seldom reported on, reconnaissance asset all over the world, no doubt their being caught in fishing nets will only increase in the near future.