China to Return US Naval Drone: Reports

Crew members aboard the VOS Raasay recover U.S. and British Royal Navy ocean gliders Oct. 8, 2016. A similar unmanned underwater vehicle was seized by the Chinese Navy in international waters Dec. 15. Cmdr. Santiago Carrizosa/Navy
Crew members aboard the VOS Raasay recover U.S. and British Royal Navy ocean gliders Oct. 8, 2016. A similar unmanned underwater vehicle was seized by the Chinese Navy in international waters Dec. 15. Cmdr. Santiago Carrizosa/Navy

The Chinese government has agreed to return a U.S. naval drone seized in the South China Sea, according to multiple news reports on Saturday.

Beijing has agreed to return a U.S. Navy unmanned underwater glider taken Thursday in international waters about 50 nautical miles northwest of Subic Bay Naval Air Station in the Philippines, according to reports in The New York Times and The Washington Post, citing information released by the Pentagon.

A crew on a small boat launched from a Chinese Navy Dalang-III class submarine on Thursday captured the unmanned underwater vehicle while it was collecting unclassified scientific data, Navy Capt. Jeff Davis, Pentagon press operations director, told reporters on Friday.

The drone was operating from the oceanographic survey ship USNS Bowditch, whose crew was attempting to retrieve it and a second vehicle in the waters when the seizure took place, Davis said.

The incident quickly heightened tensions between the two countries.

Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook said the Pentagon had called on China to "immediately return" the "unlawfully seized" vehicle.

Some observers called the incident the most significant dispute between the sides' militaries since the 2001 mid-air collision between a U.S. Navy surveillance aircraft and a Chinese fighter jet about 70 miles from China's Hainan island that led to the death of a Chinese pilot, The Associated Press reported.

China claims land and maritime territory in the South China Sea, claims that have led to disputes with other countries in the region.

-- Brendan McGarry can be reached at brendan.mcgarry@military.com. Follow him on Twitter at @Brendan_McGarry.

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