The Indonesian Navy said on Monday it was investigating the discovery of an unmarked underwater surveillance drone, which is capable of collecting military data, to determine its country of origin.
As chatter about potential espionage swirled on social media, a defense ministry spokesman urged Indonesians not to jump to conclusions about where the drone came from after it was found in Indonesia’s territorial waters off South Sulawesi province last month.
Adm. Yudo Margono, the Navy chief of staff, said the military branch’s Hydrographic and Oceanographic Center (Pushidrosal ) and the Ministry of Defense were investigating the mysterious unmanned underwater vehicle (UUV), which is also known here as a sea glider.
“I have given Pushidrosal one month to investigate and reveal the results,” Yudo told a news conference.
“There’s no marking indicating where it came from. …The device is equipped with a GPS. Hopefully it can be traced to where it came from.”
Fishermen found the drone on Dec. 20 and handed it to the police six days later. It is two meters (6.5 feet) long, and has two 50-cm (19.6-inch) wings and an 18-cm (7-inch) propeller, Yudo said.
This type of underwater vehicle is usually used for surveillance in the fishing and oil industries because of its ability to collect hydro-oceanographic data such as temperature and depth, the Indonesian navy chief said.
It can also be used for military purposes, because it can help route submarines in a manner that makes them undetectable to sonar, he noted.
“In essence, this tool can be used to collect military and industrial data,” Yudo said.
Since the underwater drone was discovered, social media in Indonesia has been abuzz with theories about its country of origin.
Jatosint, a Twitter account that says it provides open-source information on Indonesian security and defense, said the drone sounded similar to a Chinese UUV called Sea Wing.
If the drone is proven to be Chinese, it “[r]aises many questions, especially how it managed to be found deep inside our territory,” Jatosint tweeted.
A Chinese Sea Wing was found in 2019 off Indonesia’s Riau Islands, and a similar device was found in waters off East Java in January last year.
Malcolm Davis, with the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, told the website of Australia’s ABC News that the latest discovery was noteworthy because the UUV was found in a crucial maritime route linking the contested South China Sea to Darwin, the northernmost Australian city.
While Indonesia does not regard itself as party to the South China Sea dispute, Beijing claims historic rights to parts of that sea overlapping Indonesia’s exclusive economic zone.
In Indonesia, military analyst Connie Rahakundini Bakrie urged the public not to speculate about the drone’s origin.
“Be careful about accusing a country. It could be made in China or Britain, but was the user from that country?” she told the Metro TV news broadcaster.
Still, Sukamta, a member of House of Representatives’ defense committee, said Indonesia needed to be vigilant about any potential threat to its sovereignty.
“Because [the drone] went deep into Indonesian territory, it is a sign that our maritime territory can be easily penetrated by foreigners,” Sukamta said in a statement.
Meanwhile, Indonesia has no regulations on unmanned underwater vehicles, said Yudo, the naval chief.
“It would be better if there is a presidential decree that regulates the use of sea gliders in Indonesia,” he said.
Susaningtyas Nefo Handayani, a military observer and a former member of parliament, also called on the government to draw up regulations on the operation of UUVs.
“UUVs have been used by many developed countries at sea. So, we must be vigilant and be prepared,” Susaningtyas told BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated online news service.
“The government must also install underwater detection devices throughout the Indonesian archipelago to monitor underwater traffic.”
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