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Guest written by RADM (Ret.) Jon White and Grace Roskar, Consortium for Ocean Leadership
Last week a Chinese naval ship retrieved an underwater drone, actually a glider, from international waters. The caveat: it didn’t belong to them. The glider was a U.S. Navy-owned unmanned underwater vehicle (UUV) completing its oceanographic survey route in the South China Sea when it was seized. The gliders are purely scientific instruments — not “spy” equipment — and are made and sold commercially by Teledyne, a technology company that produces monitoring instruments for a whole suite of applications. The Naval Oceanographic office (NAVO) in Mississippi remotely operates a fleet of UUVs that run autonomously for months at a time collecting data on oceanic conditions such as salinity, depth, water pressure and temperature.
The glider’s data and information are critical inputs for oceanic models that are utilized globally in both the private and public sectors. Additionally, NAVO operates six military oceanographic survey ships, including the USNS Bowditch (T-AGS 62) (the vessel was recovering two gliders when this one was taken by the Chinese vessel). Furthering the argument of science technology versus the claim of spy technology, the Bowditch is not the typical “grey hull” combatant Navy ship one might think of. Instead, it’s a “white hull” vessel, crewed by civilians with a technical survey team operating the gliders.
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