Indonesia, in recent years has found a few uncrewed underwater vehicles (UUV). The most recent spotting of one, was near Selayar Island in South Sulawesi. Experts believe that it is most likely a Chinese submarine drone in waters on a strategic maritime route from the South China Sea to Australia. It was found on December 20 and was transferred to the military after a few days.

Military observers have said that the drone appears to be closely related to a Chinese Sea Wing UUV, an underwater glider developed by the Shenyang Institute of Automation at the Chinese Academy of Sciences. The submarine is a part of a new development which has all the features and mechanisms to collect hydrographic data, that includes seawater temperature, salinity, turbidity and oxygen levels. Such hydrographic data is vital for submarine warfare – both for friendly submarines to remain hidden and to help locate hostile ones.

It can also identify the most effective locations to position sea mines to attack ships passing overhead. Military analysts also speculate that the drones can act as submarine hunters, capable of locating, identifying, following, photographing – and targeting underwater opponents.

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One was found in the world’s busiest shipping “highway” – the Strait of Malacca between Indonesia and Singapore. Now, two have been found near the Sunda and Lombok Straits to Australia’s north. These are the only deep-water channels linking the South China Sea to the Indian Ocean. All these routes are very vital yet vulnerable ones as it’s a gateway through which Middle Eastern oil flows to China. These are also the gateway through which Singaporean refined fuels flow to Australia.

Therefore, whoever is in control of these waterways, can easily run the trade and has an influence over the economies of other nations as well. China has been accused of expansionist activities in the South China Sea and has conducted widespread oceanographic research in regions believed to be militarily significant.

China has been repeatedly caught operating in foreign waters. In September last year, the Indian navy evicted the Chinese survey ship Shhiyan-1 from the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. This marks the Indian Ocean entrance to the crucial Malacca Strait. It has been sending regular submarine patrols into the Andaman Sea and Bay of Bengal since 2012.

China’s economy relies heavily on sea lanes of communication passing through the waterway, therefore, it fears a situation where hostile powers could impede upon these critical lines of communication.

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