Defence analyst HI Sutton on Thursday said that China has deployed a fleet of underwater drones called Sea Wing (Haiyi) glider in the Indian Ocean. The drones can reportedly operate for months on end and make observations for naval intelligence purposes.
“These sea gliders, which the Chinese are deploying en masse, are a type of Uncrewed Underwater Vehicle (UUV) which were launched in mid-December 2019 and recovered in February after making over 3,400 observations,” HI Sutton wrote in Forbes magazine.
In his report, HI Sutton mentioned that these gliders are similar to those deployed by the US Navy, one of which was seized by Beijing in 2016 to ensure "safe navigation of passing ships." Citing government sources, “Taken at face value, it may be surprising that China is now deploying these types of UUV en masse in the Indian Ocean. China has also deployed the Sea Wing from an ice breaker in the Arctic."
It added that events in December last year suggested that 14 would be employed in the Indian Ocean mission but only 12 were used. These gliders are unpowered with large wings to glide that can run for long periods of time, adding that they are not fast or agile, however, they are employed for long-range missions.
According to manufacturer sources, Sea Wing can carry Conductivity, Temperature, Depth (CTD) sensors, as well as turbulence meter, Turbidimeter, chlorophyll sensor, dissolved oxygen sensor, nitrate and other biochemical sensors. It can also carry Acoustic sensors such as ADCP (acoustic Doppler current profile), underwater acoustic communication and hydrophones.
Furthermore, it said these Chinese gliders that are placed in the Indian Ocean were reportedly gathering oceanography data, which "sounds innocuous" however, is commonly gathered for naval intelligence purposes."