The United States Navy will keep an eye on Beijing’s activities in the disputed South China Sea by means of unmanned underwater vehicles (UUV) or ‘submarine drones.’
The Pentagon has over the past several months talked publicly about a once-secret program to develop unmanned undersea vehicles or drone subs that are becoming part of the US plan to ‘deter China from trying to dominate the region,’ according to the Financial Times.
US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter recently made reference to drone subs in Asia, pointing to their potential use in the South China Sea, which has large areas of shallow water.
The Pentagon’s investment in the subs “includes new undersea drones in multiple sizes and diverse payloads that can, importantly, operate in shallow water, where manned submarines cannot,” said Carter, who visited a US warship in the South China Sea on Friday.
The underwater drones are part of a US push into military robotics as it hopes some of them will be operational by the end of the decade in a bid to ‘deter’ potential rivals such as China and Russia, the report added.
“The idea is that if we were ever to get into a bust-up in the South China Sea, the Chinese would not know for sure what sort of capabilities the US might have,” FT quoted Shawn Brimley, a former White House and Pentagon official as saying.
“Countries across the Asia-Pacific are voicing concern with China’s land reclamation, which stands out in size and scope, as well as its militarization in the South China Sea,” Carter said in Manila on Thursday.
China has time and again slammed the US military build-up in the South China Sea, saying it is Washington, and not Beijing, which is truly militarizing the disputed waters by conducting patrols there.
The South China Sea and patches of islands there have become a source of tension between China, the US, and some regional countries who are seeking control of trade routes and mineral deposits.
The disputed islands are claimed by countries such as Vietnam, Taiwan, the Philippines, Malaysia, and Brunei, which all have overlapping claims with China over the territories in the South China Sea, including the Paracels, Spratly Islands, Pratas Islands and Scarborough Shoal.
Washington and China’s rivals have been accusing Beijing of attempting to take advantage of the situation and gradually assert control in the South China Sea.
Beijing, however, rejects the allegations and accuses Washington of meddling in the regional issues and deliberately stirring up tensions in the South China Sea.
The South China Sea serves as a crossing for more than $5 trillion worth of annual maritime trade.