An Indonesian government official believes an underwater drone found by local fishermen last month is of Chinese origins.
The Governor of the Indonesian region of South Sulawesi, Nurdin Abdullah, said on Tuesday that based on preliminary findings “it seems like the drone was made in China.”
“Whether it was put there or who put it there is unknown to us,” Abdullah said.
The confirmation comes after Indonesian security and defence commentators noted its resemblance to Chinese “Sea Wing” drones.
Indonesian defence commentator JATOSINT wrote on Twitter on Dec. 29 that the drone’s specifications resemble to those used by China.
A fisherman in Selayar Island, South Sulawesi, has found a UUV:
Length: 225 cm
Tail: 18 cm
Wingspan: 50 cm
Trailing antenna: 93 cm
Very similar to China’s ‘Sea Wing’ UUV, which, if it’s true, raised many questions especially how it managed to be found deep inside our territory pic.twitter.com/RAiX8Xw2BK
— JATOSINT (@Jatosint) December 29, 2020
Anadolu Agency reported that Indonesia’s naval chief Admiral Yudo Margono said on Jan. 4 that the unmanned underwater vehicle (UUV), which was found on Dec. 26, carried no mark of its country of origin but resembled those produced by the United States, France, China, Japan, and Canada.
Currently the drone is being analysed at the Indonesian Navy’s Center for Hydrography and Oceanography.
Indonesian government officials are deeply concerned.
Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives Azis Syamsuddin said on Jan. 1 that any foreign underwater drone or submarine should not be in Indonesian waters without permission.
“The Indonesian Foreign Ministry must lodge a protest with the country which owns the drone that was recently found by a fisherman near Selayar Island, South Sulawesi province,” he said.
“The Foreign Ministry needs to also coordinate with the military (TNI) commander to take the necessary measures in response to the discovery of the foreign UUV,” he said.
This is the second drone found in Indonesian waters of its kind. The first was found in March 2019 in Indonesia’s Riau Islands, near Singapore and Indonesia’s Surabaya Naval Base, and in the Malacca Strait, another vital shipping route for Australia.
Indonesian security analyst Muhammad Fauzan believes that the drone found last month, if Chinese, was most likely mapping future submarine routes, as it was in a significant maritime route between China and Australia’s northernmost city of Darwin.
Indonesia straddles multiple important shipping routes vital for Australia and the Indo-Pacific nations, including the Malacca and Lombok Straits.
Both are vital maritime corridors for Australian exports—resources, energy, and agricultural produce—and critical for importing liquid energy supplies and consumer goods from Asia and Europe.
Speaking to the ABC on Jan.1, Furzan said that if the drone was a Chinese instrument, the concern was whether it was being used for intelligence gathering or illegal seabed surveying.
If it was surveying, then this could have ramifications for Australia, Malcolm Davis, from the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, said.
Davis told the ABC that the Chinese navy would need to understand the oceanographic and the bathymetric nature of that region before they deployed submarines and using drones to map an area is a common precursor to that eventuality.
He warned that Australia needs to prepare for Chinese submarines in its waters if this is the case.
“It does send a signal that the Chinese navy is getting ready to deploy submarines closer to our maritime approaches north of Darwin and we need to be ready for the prospect of submarine activity much closer to Australia’s northern coast than we have been experiencing in the past,” Davis said.