Chinese spy submarines use drones to pave the way for future operations

WARSAW, (BM) – Chinese spy submarines use drones to pave the way for future operations. At least that is the military’s general expert opinion in the region after Indonesian fishers found another drone in their fishing nets, learned ciitng Defence24.

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Military analysts believe that China is spying on the waters between Australia and the Malay Peninsula. Most probably, the Chinese Navy is preparing in this way for the broader use of its submarines, including the preparation of a safe route for them to the Indian Ocean.

Indonesian media reported that on December 20 this year. one of the fishermen fished an unmanned submersible vehicle in his net that probably belonged to the Chinese Navy. The drone was found near Selayar Island near South Celebes – very far from Chinese territorial waters (over 1500 NM). Its appearance was not accidental (e.g., after an accident), but was the result of the Chinese’s intentional actions who secretly and illegally research sea areas around the islands of Indonesia, the Philippines, Papua New Guinea, and perhaps also Australia.

The case is alarming because a similar discovery also took place in March 2020. Then the fishermen found the submarine near Riau Island, which is precisely on the route connecting the South China Sea with the Strait of Malacca. It was a vehicle different from the one found nine months later at Selayar Island, but with Sea Wing drones’ characteristics. Notably, the sensors on the board of the drone retrieved in March were still working, which indicated that it was released quite recently.

What fishers found in Indonesian waters?

China has so far denied any submarine retrieval vehicles by Malaysian fishers. They can do this because the Americans also conducted oceanographic research in these waters using autonomous underwater vehicles. One of them was intercepted by the Chinese Navy in December 2016, which, before returning their property to the Americans, had the opportunity to examine the structure and develop a copy of it for its military purposes.

This information is confirming by the similar appearance and sizes of drones found by Indonesian fishermen. However, according to specialists, they are very similar to the American, but they are Chinese Sea Wing submarines. This statement is evidenced by the conical nasal shield, which has three round sensor windows, the middle one being larger than the outer two. The stabilizing wings have a folding mechanism, and the antenna protrudes directly from the center of the tail section. Since the drone shown in the photos is upside down, the vertical stabilizer is visible underneath.

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Sea Wing is a crewless aerial vehicle included in the so-called underwater gliders – gliders. Their distinguishing feature is the lack of screws because such drones do not have a mechanical, classic drive. Despite this, they are not thrown accidentally by waves and tides but can move vertically, horizontally, and directionally by themselves. The descent and ascent occur through the buoyancy control system (shifting mineral oil lighter than water from the center of the drone to external tanks and vice versa) and using the water temperature difference on the surface and at great depths.

In LBS-G gliders, the Americans use wax pipes, and because of the heat, pipes expand on the surface and squeeze the oil from the inner to the outer tank. This feature forces the buoyancy to change, helping the drone submerge. As the depth increases and the water gets colder, the wax compresses, and the oil is sucked back into the inner reservoir, and this way, the sailplane rising to the surface slowly.

Thanks to this movement, the glider can also move independently of sea currents. The designers found a solution that allows you to move forward without a drive – the lift created on the drone’s wings-fins during vertical movement. In this way, gliders move along a path resembling a sine wave in a vertical cross-section – in the meantime collecting data about the aquatic environment (depending on sensors mounted on unmanned aerial vehicles).

Its shape – i.e., the duration of the immersion and ascent cycle and its maximum depth – depends on the drone’s design and the task it performs. Every time the glider emerges to the surface (or every few cycles), the position is corrected (using GPS). The data is transmitted to the information processing center using the satellite communication system. This activity performs by using communications and GPS antennas, most often located at the wingtips or the stern rudder.

This rudder allows you to correct the direction by changing its position about the water stream. The whole is managed by special drone software that can regulate the rate of descent and climb, allows you to control the speed, and has a low power consumption mode. Thanks to these solutions, the drone can independently move at a rate of up to about half a knot.

Why is someone using gliders near Indonesia?

The official target for the massive use of drones between the Indonesian and possibly Philippine islands is unknown. “Mass” – because you must be aware that the retrieved vehicles are only a percentage of what was used in these waters. These are drones that: firstly, have been damaged and, secondly, have been caught.

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However, the finds’ exact location allows us to assume that it is not about civilian oceanographic research but the preparation of specific data for the Chinese Navy. Fishers found both vehicles close to two potential submarine routes from the South China Sea to the Indian Ocean: the Sunda Strait and the Lombok Strait. For such a transition to occur while submerged, submarines need information: both in terms of the nature of the seabed and the temperature and salinity of the water (depending on depth), turbidity, levels of chlorophyll and oxygen, water currents, and obstacles to navigation.

Underwater gliders can help this, which is why they are commonly used, especially in vast waters. For example, Sea Wing drones are used as permanent equipment on Chinese reconnaissance and hydrographic ships. In December 2019, the Chinese revealed, for instance, that one of their research ships, “Xiang Yang Hong 06,” released as many as 12 gliders in the eastern part of the Indian Ocean. However, due to the islands’ distance and layout, it is unlikely that Indonesian fishers would later retrieve two of these drones.

Releasing several such drones, contrary to appearances, is not such an expensive undertaking. In the United States, one “glider” costs “only” about $ 150,000. With Chinese mass production, this price can be even several times lower.

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