An Indonesian fisherman has caught a mysterious torpedo-shaped object equipped with cameras off the Selayar Islands, an archipelago in the South Sulawesi province of eastern Indonesia.
Local media says the object appears to have an aluminium hull and includes two vertical fins with a 50 cm wingspan. The object is 225 cm long, has an 18 cm-long tail, and a 93 cm-long rear antenna, with camera-like devices said to have been found inside the tube. The fisherman made the catch earlier this month, with the mystery object since handed over to local police, who then passed it on to the Indonesian military.
Submarine warfare expert, defence observer, and open-source intelligence analyst H I Sutton believes the mystery object may be a Chinese submarine drone from the Haiyi ("Sea Wing") family of unmanned submersible surveillance vehicles.
BREAKING. Second Chinese 'Sea Wing' submarine drone found in Indonesian waters. The first was near the Strait of Malacca, this one near the Lombok Strait and Sunda Strait. ....Indian Ocean— H I Sutton (@CovertShores) December 29, 2020
Nod @tom_riyanto47, @Jatosint, @CollinSLKoh https://t.co/dwJWenoJYE
As evidence, Sutton refers to a pair of illustrations showing the drone and its components.
The object caught by the fisherman looks similar to the illustrations created by the intelligence analyst, but is missing the characteristic tail fin and rudder, and has several round holes drilled into the top and rear of its hull, as well as what appears to be a hatch over the fin area. The object’s nose cone also seems stubbier, while the placement of the Sea Wing’s "compartments" does not appear to match that of those in the mystery drone.
A fisherman in Selayar Island, South Sulawesi, has found a UUV:— JATOSINT (@Jatosint) December 29, 2020
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
The shape of the Sea Wing is itself similar to the US Navy’s Littoral Battlespace Sensing-Glider (LBS-G), with only a few visible differences, including the Sea Wing’s rear extending antenna, a larger rear top-mounted fin in the US design, a black stripe around the nosecone area in the LBS-G, and the lack of three circular sensor windows in the nose cone. China caught a US LBS-G snooping in the South China Sea in December 2016, sparking a minor diplomatic scandal. Beijing later returned the drone.
Assuming that the drone is indeed a Sea Wing, Sutton suggests that its discovery in Indonesian waters may indicate that the Chinese military is carrying out surveillance activities to collect data that may serve useful in wartime, including info about local geography such as temperature, turbidity, salinity, chlorophyll, and oxygen levels, with this information potentially useful to Chinese submarines.
Unlike many of its other neighbours, including Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, and Taiwan, China’s relations with Indonesia have been less blemished by conflicting claims in the South China Sea. However, China’s nine-dash line claims do overlap with what Indonesia says is its exclusive economic zone near the Natuna Islands, west of Borneo. That maritime spat has sparked threats of legal action and confrontations between coast guard and trawler vessels. Indonesia has also occasionally deployed its military to the area, while China has sometimes escorted fishing vessels with its own warships.