China has seized an American unmanned underwater vehicle (UUV) in the South China Sea, raising tensions in the disputed waters, and triggering a demand by the Pentagon for the return of its drone.
A US defense official told Reuters the incident happened on Thursday in international waters north of the Philippines’ Subic Bay, as a US survey ship called the Bowditch was retrieving the UUV.
“Bowditch had stopped in the water to pick up two underwater drones,” CNN reported. “At that point a Chinese naval ship that had been shadowing the Bowditch put a small boat into the water. That small boat came up alongside and the Chinese crew took one of the drones.”
China confirmed this week that it has installed weapons systems on artificial reefs in the area. Admiral Harry Harris, head of the US Pacific Command, said the military was ready to “confront” China in the area if necessary.
The US Navy has a number of UUVs in use for minesweeping and survey missions, and more in development. US defense secretary Ash Carter said in April that the Pentagon planned to deploy UUVs in the South China Sea as a way to counter China’s provocations in the strategic waterway, which Beijing claims as its territory.