Part of the Peasant Islands in the province of South Sulawesi in Indonesia. A local fisherman reportedly discovered a “rocket-like” glider off Selayar Island in December 2020.
Javed Khazar iStock | Getty images
SINGAPORE – An underwater surveillance drone rebuilt deep in Indonesia̵
The “rocket-like” object with wings has been identified as a China-built autonomous submarine glider Haiyi or “sea wing,” said Kelvin Wong, Janes’ chief analyst of unmanned systems, in a Sunday note.
A local fisherman reportedly found the glider off the island of Selayar in Indonesia’s South Sulawesi province before handing it over to the Indonesian navy. This is the third identical submarine glider found in Indonesian waters in two years, Wong said.
It is not known where or why the drone was originally located, but the location where it was found is “detached from international waterways and extremely far from China’s neighboring maritime claims,” the analyst said.
There have been no known Chinese scientific studies in or around Indonesian waters that used these gliders in 2020, Wong said. The submarine drones used in the last known operation in December 2019 are said to have all been successfully restored, he said.
Underwater gliders are commonly used to conduct research on the underwater environment, such as collecting data on chlorophyll and oxygen levels as well as water temperature, the analyst said.
Such data are also useful for naval operations, especially in underwater and anti-submarine wars, he added.
“Excellent water knowledge in the region can allow submarines to work quieter and reduce the likelihood of detection,” Wong said.
“Conversely, intimate knowledge of these underwater characteristics can assist personnel (anti-submarine) personnel in hunting potentially hostile submarines.”
China has a “clearly defined military-civilian merger policy” to use the available knowledge and technology in the civilian and commercial space for military advantages, Wong explained. As a result, the “dual-use nature” of the information gathered by underwater gliders “is likely to be used by the Chinese military,” he said.
Wong said the latest underwater gliders discovered by Indonesians were near strategic waterways and retention points. This suggests that the data collected could be used by China to improve the ability of its submarines and surface fighters to operate in these waters, the analyst said.