The People's Liberation Army Navy stole an American unmanned underwater vehicle (UUV) conducting oceanographic research Thursday in plain view of a U.S. Navy vessel about fifty miles from Subic Bay in the Philippines.
According to a report from the Washington Examiner, the brazen heist took place in international waters as the oceanographic research vessel USNS Bowditch (T AGS 62), a Pathfinder-class ship.
The BBC reported that the vessel responsible for the heist was ASR-510, identified in Combat Fleets of the World as a Dalang III-class "rescue and salvage" ship. The Chinese vessel apparently came within 500 yards of the Bowditch, lowered a small boat and seized the littoral battlespace sensing (LBS) glider.
Daniel Braun, left, Eric Sanchez and David Barney, Systems Center Pacific engineers at Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command (SPAWAR), perform pre-deployment inspections on littoral battlespace sensing gliders aboard the Military Sealift Command oceanographic survey ship USNS Pathfinder (T-AGS 60). Each glider hosts a payload suite of sensors that will measure the physical characteristics of the water column as the glider routinely descends and ascends in the ocean. The gliders will be deployed during an at-sea test aboard Pathfinder Oct. 22-Nov. 5. (U.S. Navy photo by Rick Naystatt)
In a statement, Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook said, "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."
According to a 2010 Navy release, the LBS glider can operate for up to eight months on a lithium battery. The data gathered by these gliders assist in everything from special operations to mine warfare to anti-submarine warfare.
USNS Bowditch (T-AGS 62) -- Navy file photo of the T-AGS 60 Class Oceanographic Survey Ship, USNS Bowditch. Her mission includes oceanographic sampling and data collection of surface, midwater and ocean floor parameters; launch and recovery of hydrographic survey launches (HSLs); the launching , recovering and towing of scientific packages (both tethered and autonomous), including the handling, monitoring and servicing of remotely operated vehicles (ROVs); shipboard oceanogaphic data processing and sample analysis; and precise navigation, trackline maneuvering and station keeping to support deep-ocean and coastal surveys. There are 5 ships in this class. (U.S. Navy photo)
This is not the first time the Bowditch has been involved in a maritime incident with the People's Liberation Army Navy. Globalsecurity.org noted that a week before the 2001 EP-3 incident in which a People's Liberation Army Navy Air Force J-8 Finback collided with a U.S. Navy electronic surveillance plane, a Chinese frigate came very close to the unarmed vessel. The Bowditch, which is manned by a civilian crew, also was involved in incidents in 2002 and 2003.
China claims ownership of the South China Sea, marking its claims with a so-called "Nine-Dash Line." An international panel rejected Chinese claims earlier this year in a case brought by the Philippines. The Chinese boycotted the process, and have since armed a number of artificial islands in the disputed region. Shortly after the ruling was issued, Chinese forces rammed and sank a Vietnamese fishing vessel in the disputed waters.