An increasingly common occurrence in Chinese waters of the Pacific, now we see this happening in the North Atlantic as well – secret surveillance sea drones being discovered.
Forbes reported that a small unmanned sea drone vessel, identified as a Wave Glider, made by U.S. company Liquid Robotics, “washed up on the rocky Scottish Isle of Tiree,” a hundred miles from the U.K.’s nuclear submarine base at Faslane.
The U.S. Navy also maintains a base at Faslane. While this sea drone is reportedly employed by both the U.S. Navy and Britain’s Royal Navy, the British Ministry of Defense has stated it does not belong to them. The U.S. Navy has not commented on this vessel.
Other government agencies and scientific researchers use this type of vessel as well, but the specific configuration and paint scheme make it unlikely that it is a civilian research boat and suggest a military mission.
Forbes notes some of the military distinctions of this boat:
One is that is grey rather than the usual bright yellow, with no pennant to make it easier to see. There are no navigation lights, which are compulsory for any vessel sailing at night under U.K. law, or a radar reflector. Without these aids, the glider, which lies flat on the water, would be extremely difficult to spot… This may explain why one of the antennas is broken and how it ended washed up on a beach. The question though is why such a vessel would be sailing covertly in ‘stealth mode.’
These small, low-profile vessels are capable of traveling thousands of miles for many months and are generally in contact with their operator via satellite. Kyle Mikozami notes in Popular Mechanics that the “Wave Rider is easily recognizable due to the handle on the bow and a set of three solar panels.”
Mikozami adds, “The spy boat also has the Wave Rider’s telltale set of three black, stubby antennas, likely for satellite communications, payload telemetry, and GPS.”
Per a video from Liquid Robotics, the sea drone is actually a system which also includes a tethered, finned submersible, that uses wave energy to propel the drone. That unit is missing and may explain why the vessel drifted and ended up washed up on the island.
What is the likely explanation for this mystery drone boat? Mikozami notes that the U.S. Navy “is reentering the field of anti-submarine warfare, spurred by what it considers the threat of Russian nuclear-tipped cruise missiles threatening the Eastern Seaboard.”
He adds that the “Navy has re-established the Second Fleet in the Atlantic and is researching new submarine detection technologies, including using drones to detect and then chase submarines.”
This secretive stealth sea drone is thus very likely part of the U.S. Navy’s expanded anti-submarine warfare efforts in the North Atlantic directed at the growing Russian submarine launched missile threat.