The Defense Department is demanding the return of a U.S. Navy underwater drone captured by the Chinese military in the hotly contested waters of the South China Sea.
The U.S. Naval Ship Bowditch, a civilian vessel under the command of the sea service’s Military Sealift Command, was in the midst of collecting two underwater drones — known as “ocean gliders” — when Chinese Dalang III-class warship confronted the American vessel.
The crew of the Bowditch was able to retrieve one of the two gliders, which had stalled in international waters 50 nautical miles northwest of Subic Bay off the Philippine coast. But Chinese sailors took the second drone before American sailors could retrieve it, Pentagon spokesman Capt. Jeff Davis said Friday.
“Bridge to bridge communications” were initiated between the two ships shortly after the second drone was take aboard the Chinese vessel, Capt. Davis explained during a briefing with reporters.
The civilian captain of the Bowditch requested the return of the drone during the brief exchange. His Chinese counterpart “ignored the request and they took it,” Capt. Davis said.
“It is ours … we would like it back and we would like it not to happen again,” he said, adding Defense Department officials are currently pursuing the return of the drone though diplomatic channels with Beijing.