Friday, December 16, 2016

Ni hao, me hearties!

If this drawing is correct...
...this seems very much like a...not-good thing.

First things first: the "vessel" in question wasn't a "vessel" but an submarine drone. This isn't the Mayaguez here. And we can't be sure that this drone hadn't been reconning one of these many islets that the Chinese have been fortifying or otherwise doing some sort of snooping that the PLAN got shirty about. There are no captive sailors, no hostages or capital ships held without cause.

But,'s one thing for the PRC to be muscling into sea rocks in the middle of the South China Sea. But this? Hell, it's damn near riht smack insides the old drydock at Subic. If this is now the extent of what mainland China considers its "territorial waters"..?

Is this a one-time "signal" to young Mister Trump for questioning the sacrosanct "One China" policy? Just some PLAN captain feeling frisky? Some other, more opaque sort of skulduggery? this possibly something that signals a genuine foreign policy shift for the PRC.

Let's just say that I can't think of a better way to pick a fight between the PLAN and a whole bunch o' folks, including our own USN, than staking the far end of China's maritime frontier at the eastern edge of the South China Sea.


  1. Statement by Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook on Incident in South China Sea

    "Using appropriate government-to-government channels, the Department of Defense has called upon China to immediately return an unmanned underwater vehicle (UUV) that China unlawfully seized on Dec. 15 in the South China Sea while it was being recovered by a U.S. Navy oceanographic survey ship. The USNS Bowditch (T-AGS 62) and the UUV — an unclassified “ocean glider” system used around the world to gather military oceanographic data such as salinity, water temperature, and sound speed – were conducting routine operations in accordance with international law about 50 nautical miles northwest of Subic Bay, Philippines, when a Chinese Navy PRC DALANG III-Class ship (ASR-510) launched a small boat and retrieved the UUV. Bowditch made contact with the PRC Navy ship via bridge-to-bridge radio to request the return of the UUV. The radio contact was acknowledged by the PRC Navy ship, but the request was ignored. The UUV is a sovereign immune vessel of the United States. We call upon China to return our UUV immediately, and to comply with all of its obligations under international law.”

    1. WTF was the PLAN doing way the hell out there so close to the PI? That'd be like one of those old "Soviet trawlers" dinking around 50 miles south of Pearl Harbor back in the Cold War.

      While I doubt this is going to blow up into anything, it seems a little dicey for the PLAN to be showing its flag so close to a foreign shore; especially if it's gonna be this cocky.

    2. Hard to tell about distance on that map without coordinates. But the location of the UUV kidnapping appears tobe roughly halfway between the Luzon shore and Scarborough Shoal.

      If that is true then I surmise that the PLAN was probably stalking the oceanographic survey ship, USNS Bowditch, that was working with the UUV. Or maybe stalking the UUV itself if the Bowditch did not venture out to Scarborough Shoal.

      I have no idea what the range is of those LBS drones. They do not need fuel as their propulsion system is based on wave action and buoyancy. Developed originally by the University of Washington in Seattle.

  2. This is a very clever response to the Donald's phone call.

    Maritime law is not at all clear regarding unmanned vessels.
    I suspect the Chinese will claim it as a salvage operation on an abandoned vessel and demand payment. There is a lot of intricacy involved and I suspect that the Chinese want to get the USA to commit to a precedent that it may later regret (or perhaps at some point the USA already snarfed up a drone somewhere and claimed salvage and China is playing a goose/gander game.

  3. Ael -

    So you think this was directed by Peking? Perhaps so. Or maybe an overzealous local PLAN commander incensed with the thought that this UUV was spying on him, or spying on what was going on at Scarborough.

    The US claim is that it was doing oceanographic research, only recording salinity, water temperature, and pressure. But I am sure that the PLAN knows full well that salinity, water temp and pressure are critical knowledge elements for submarine warfare as well as ASW.

  4. Seattle Times today says the UUV was also collecting data on 'clarity of water'.

  5. All, my guess is that the PRC won't say anything in public. They've already agreed to hand the thing back, probably after they've hacked the hell out of it (much like my understanding of how the U.S. recon aircraft was "returned" - in pieces...) to discover exactly what the thing can do, what ASW information it was collecting (because you know damn well that's what it's doing), and how to reverse-engineer as much of it as they can.

    I suspect that whether this was a mere target of opportunity or directed from Beijing that the PRC will be as cryptic as possible to ensure that it has the broadest effect possible; leave the crude Americans guessing; is it a warning? A threat? An error? Nothing at all? me, the most interesting part of this is the location. SO close to the PI. I'm not sure if it means that the PLAN has some sort of quiet arrangement with the Philippine government or whether they have an immense contempt for that government.

  6. I now believe Ael is correct. The PLAN Dalang IIIA ship, ASR-510, that snatched up the UUV is a submarine rescue vessel. So best guess is they were probably sent there by the South Sea Fleet command to track down and retrieve the sub drone snooping in what they consider their domain. They were following the Bowditch waiting for a chance for the grab.

  7. Replies
    1. Y'know...every time Drumpf says or does stuff like this I make the mistake of looking at whatever-it-is four different ways trying to suss out the hidden strategy behind it. I waste a foolish amount of time looking for his eleventh-dimension chess move...when the bare fact is "yes, he is just that ignorant"...