China’s Navy ‘Stole’ a U.S. Underwater Drone in South China Sea

USNS Bowditch. Photo: US Navy

A Chinese warship captured an underwater drone deployed by a U.S. Navy ship on Thursday. On Friday, the U.S. demanded its return. “It’s ours, it was clearly marked, we want it back, and we don’t want this to happen again,” Captain Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman, told The Wall Street Journal.

The incident took place in the South China Sea, about 100 miles off the Subic Bay port. It began when the USNS Bowditch, an oceanographic survey ship, stopped to retrieve two underwater drones, which were measuring ocean conditions. Before both drones could be retrieved, a small boat launched from a Chinese warship brazenly “stole” one of them.

The U.S. established communication with the Chinese ship, but couldn’t convince those on board to leave the drone behind. The Pentagon said Friday that the drone was not on a classified mission. Rather, the “underwater glider” was collecting “bathymetric data from the sea, along with data on the water’s salinity, temperature and current flow,” WSJ reports.

China’s seizure of the drone marks the first time since 2001 that the country has taken a piece of U.S. military property. Then, the country seized a U.S. Navy surveillance plane after a midair collision with a Chinese fighter jet.

China’s Navy ‘Stole’ a U.S. Underwater Drone