WASHINGTON, Dec 16 (Reuters) – A Chinese warship has seized an underwater drone deployed by a U.S. oceanographic vessel in the South China Sea, triggering a formal diplomatic protest and a demand for its return, U.S. officials told Reuters on Friday.
The drone was taken on Dec. 15, the first seizure of its kind in recent memory, about 50 nautical miles northwest of Subic Bay off the Philippines just as the USNS Bowditch was about to retrieve the unmanned underwater vehicle (UUV), officials said.
“The UUV was lawfully conducting a military survey in the waters of the South China Sea,” one official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“It’s a sovereign immune vessel, clearly marked in English not to be removed from the water – that it was U.S. property,” the official said.
The Pentagon confirmed the incident at a news briefing and said the drone used commercially available technology and sold for about $150,000.
Still, the Pentagon viewed China’s seizure seriously since it had effectively taken U.S. military property.
“It is ours, and it is clearly marked as ours and we would like it back. And we would like this not to happen again,” Pentagon spokesman Jeff Davis said.
Senator Ben Cardin, the top Democrat on the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, called the seizure “a remarkably brazen violation of international law.”
U.S. Navy Secretary Ray Maybus cited a “growing China” as one of the reasons that the Navy needed to expand its fleet to 355 ships, including 12 carriers, 104 large surface combatants, 38 amphibious ships and 66 submarines.
The seizure will add to concerns about China’s increased military presence and aggressive posture in the disputed South China Sea, including its militarization of maritime outposts.
It coincided with sabre-rattling from Chinese state media and some in its military establishment after U.S. President-elect Donald Trump cast doubt on whether Washington would stick to its nearly four-decades-old policy of recognizing that Taiwan is part of “one China.”
A U.S. research group this week said new satellite imagery indicated China has installed weapons, including anti-aircraft and anti-missile systems, on all seven artificial islands it has built in the South China Sea.
Mira Rapp-Hooper, a senior fellow in the Asia-Pacific Security Program at the Center for a New American Security, said China would have a hard time explaining its actions.
“This move, if accurately reported, is highly escalatory, and it is hard to see how Beijing will justify it legally,” Rapp-Hooper said.
The drone was part of an unclassified program to collect oceanographic data including salinity, temperature and clarity of the water, the U.S. official added. The data can help inform U.S. military sonar data since such factors affect sound.
The USNS Bowditch, a U.S. Navy ship crewed by civilians that carries out oceanographic work, had already retrieved one of two of its drones, known as ocean gliders, when a Chinese Navy Dalang 3 class vessel took the second one.
Officials said the Bowditch was only 500 meters (yards) from the drone and, observing the Chinese intercede, used bridge-to-bridge communications to demand it be returned.
The Chinese ship acknowledged the communication but did not respond to the Bowditch’s demands, the Pentagon’s Davis said.
“The only thing they said after they were sailing off into the distance was: “we are returning to normal operations,” Davis said.
The United States issued the formal demarche, as such protests are known, through diplomatic channels and included a demand that China immediately return the drone. The Chinese acknowledged it but have not responded, officials said.
The seizure happened a day after China’s ambassador to the United States said Beijing would never bargain with Washington over issues involving its national sovereignty or territorial integrity.
“Basic norms of international relations should be observed, not ignored, certainly not be seen as something you can trade off,” Ambassador Cui Tiankai, speaking to executives of top U.S. companies, said on Wednesday.
He did not specifically mention Taiwan, or Trump’s decision to accept a telephone call from Taiwan’s president on Dec. 2.
The call was the first such contact with Taiwan by a U.S. president-elect or president since President Jimmy Carter switched diplomatic recognition from Taiwan to China in 1979, acknowledging Taiwan as part of “one China.” (Reporting by Phil Stewart; editing by James Dalgleish and Grant McCool)
(c) Copyright Thomson Reuters 2016.
010406-N-0000X-001 USNS Bowditch (T-AGS 62) — Navy file photo of the T-AGS 60 Class Oceanographic Survey Ship, USNS Bowditch. Her mission includes oceanographic sampling and data collection of surface, midwater and ocean floor parameters; launch and recovery of hydrographic survey launches (HSLs); the launching , recovering and towing of scientific packages (both tethered and autonomous), including the handling, monitoring and servicing of remotely operated vehicles (ROVs); shipboard oceanogaphic data processing and sample analysis; and precise navigation, trackline maneufvering and station keeping to support deep-ocean and coastal surveys. There are 5 ships in this class. U.S. Navy photo (RELEASED)
(Bloomberg) — Self-made millionaire Gregory Sancoff has spent a decade and $19 million building a highly unusual stealth boat. Called Ghost, it’s designed to be faster, more stable, and more fuel-efficient than anything currently in the U.S. Navy’s fleet, he says. “It’s such a smooth ride, you can sit there and drink your coffee going through six-foot swells,” he proudly told Bloomberg Businessweek in 2014.
But there’s a problem: The Pentagon doesn’t want Sancoff’s boat—and also won’t let him sell it abroad.
Early on, the government served Sancoff with secrecy orders, which meant he wasn’t allowed to show the patents or technology to anyone. Those secrecy orders were removed for a few years. But last year the government placed Juliet Marine Systems Inc. under the watch of International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR). “It’s basically the same as a secrecy order,” says Sancoff. “I need government permission, if I want to show anybody anything.” Since then, the Portsmouth, N.H.-based startup has had to lay off 17 of its 20 employees, and Sancoff sued the government to recoup damages. “We’ve fallen into a very weird place,” he says. “If the U.S. doesn’t want this, fine. But why not let us sell to friendly nations? We’ve had so much interest from countries like Japan, Korea, Qatar.”
The Navy and the U.S. Department of Justice declined to comment.
The Ghost, which Sancoff says was intended as a kind of “attack helicopter of the sea,” looks more like a spacecraft than a boat. Its hull travels above the water, eliminating the jarring impact of waves. Underwater, long tubes, with propellers in front, power it with gas turbine engines, while simultaneously producing an air bubble around themselves to reduce friction. (See a video and more complete description here.)
Sancoff’s hope in building the boat was to honor his father, who served under General George Patton in World War II. Although Sancoff didn’t have a government contract for the project, as is normally required for weapons platforms, he hoped the novel vessel would so impress the Navy that it would adopt it.
As it turned out, many government officials were impressed. Former New Hampshire Senator John E. Sununu joined Juliet’s board, as did several retired naval officers, including four-star Admiral James Hogg, Rear Admiral Thomas Richards, who once oversaw all of the country’s Navy SEALs, and Rear Admiral Jay Cohen, who served as the Pentagon’s chief of naval research and as undersecretary for science and technology at the Department of Homeland Security. Sancoff says active Navy officials also showed interest but ultimately declined to work with him.
After finding out that the government would not allow him to sell abroad, Sancoff filed a lawsuit in July 2015 to recoup damages. He hopes for a trial by next summer.
“We’re spending outrageous amounts of money fighting the Justice Department. It’s killing us. We had to lay off the majority of our employees,” says Sancoff. “I never wanted to sue the government; it was the last thing I wanted.”The outlook for Juliet isn’t great. Last year, the U.S. patent office issued 95 secrecy orders—one for every 6,628 applications, as Joshua Brustein wrote in June. Most of those inventions were developed by large companies, specifically for the military or other government agencies. But as Brustein points out, the orders “are a different sort of ordeal for private inventors, about a dozen of whom file patent applications that are made secret by government mandate each year.” Inventors who break gag orders can lose their patent rights, or face fines or incarceration. And while some secrecy orders are reversed each year, others date back as far as the 1940s.
As for recouping funds? “There is a legal process to ask the government for compensation,” says Brustein, “but it takes years and almost never pays out.”
Senator Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) has weighed in on Sancoff’s behalf.
“It doesn’t seem right for the U.S. government to tell a company like Juliet Marine that the Department of Defense is not interested in the cutting-edge vessel and propulsion technology the company has developed at its own expense, while also telling the company that the technology is too advanced to permit them to share it with our nation’s closest allies and partners,” she said in a written statement to Businessweek. “DoD will increasingly need innovative American defense suppliers in the future, and the Pentagon would be wise to not adopt policies that will drive those companies out of business or out of the defense sector.”
For now, Sancoff has decided to stop filing patent applications altogether. “We’re afraid the government will come in and put more secrecy orders on us,” he says.
The Zumwalt had to have some Radar Reflectors added to alert other ships of her presence. Mainly for poor visibility situations but other civilian ships were having trouble seeing her with their radar. Some reflectors have been installed to help when needed to make the ship better appearing on radar.
At a very large financial cost she will help us remain the Kings of the Sea.
131028-O-ZZ999-102 BATH, Maine (Oct. 28, 2013) The Zumwalt-class guided-missile destroyer DDG 1000 is floated out of dry dock at the General Dynamics Bath Iron Works shipyard. The ship, the first of three Zumwalt-class destroyers, will provide independent forward presence and deterrence, support special operations forces and operate as part of joint and combined expeditionary forces. The lead ship and class are named in honor of former Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Elmo R. “Bud” Zumwalt Jr., who served as chief of naval operations from 1970-1974. (U.S. Navy photo courtesy of General Dynamics/Released)
If Santa puts an expensive drone under the Christmas tree, he may attach a note saying that it must be registered with the Federal Aviation Administration before it can soar outdoors.
Half a pound to 55 pounds??
Radio-controlled unmanned aerial systems, such as drones, model planes and helicopters must be registered with the Federal Aviation Administration if the aircraft weighs more than 0.55 pounds (250 grams) on takeoff.
Many of the drone models available at retailers for less than $100 do not require FAA registration because of their light weight, the FAA says.
Owners who must register their aircraft can do so online starting Monday at faa.gov/uas/registration.
The $5 registration fee will be refunded for those who register in the first 30 days using a credit card. Registration is good for three years.
More than 500,000 drones are expected to be given as gifts this holiday season. Only the heavier models weighing more than a half-pound fully loaded must be registered with the government.
What do you think?
Do you think radio-controlled model aircraft should be registered with the FAA just like drones?
Yes, they should all be registered with the FAA if they meet the weight limit.
No, radio-controlled hobby airplanes have been around for a long time and should be exempt from registration.
I have no strong opinion.
But longtime hobbyists who fly radio-controlled planes and helicopters that meet the FAA weight threshold for registration are also affected. And many of them don’t like it.
“It baffles me as to why they would want to hit a hobby group,” said Ed Yeash of Summerville, president of the Charleston RC Society.
“We deserve a better break than what the FAA has given us because we are responsible modelers,” Yeash said. “Responsible people will fly where they are supposed to fly.”
Charleston RC Society is a member of the Academy of Model Aeronautics representing more than 180,000 amateur radio-controlled flight enthusiasts nationwide. The academy and the local club are urging members to postpone registering their model aircraft with the government while the hobbyists challenge the new FAA requirement. The organization is pursuing “all legal and political remedies” to FAA regulations it describes as “burdensome and unnecessary.”
The Academy of Model Aeronautics has a pilot and aircraft registration system for its members, which in the organization’s opinion, accomplishes the safety and accountability objectives of the new FAA registration system.
Hobbyists who fly remote-controlled drones and scale-model aircraft face a new regulation requiring them to register with the FAA. A DJI Phantom 3 drone is flown during a drone demonstration at a farm and winery, on potential use for board members of the National Corn Growers in June in Cordova, Md.
Enlarge Hobbyists who fly remote-controlled drones and scale-model aircraft face a new regulation requiring them to register with the FAA. A DJI Phantom 3 drone is flown during a drone demonstration at a farm and winery, on potential use for board members of the National Corn Growers in June in Cordova, Md. AP/Alex Brandon
Club member Richard White of Ladson said he worried that controversy about hobby drones possibly being used as spy devices or posing a threat to public safety would result in them being outlawed. His quadcopter drone cost $1,000.
“I think the FAA has done this to quell the fears of the public,” he said.
The new law requiring FAA registration applies to hobbyist “unmanned aerial systems” weighing slightly more than a half-pound (250 grams) on takeoff but less than 55 pounds. Violators could receive stiff fines and even jail time. Recreational fliers will be required to have their FAA registration certificate with them. Their aircraft must be marked with the registration number.
The FAA opened its registration for unmanned aerial systems on Monday. Owners who purchased their radio-controlled aircraft prior to Monday have 60 days to register. For others, registration is required prior to operation. The $5 registration fee will be refunded for early birds who register using a credit card in the first month. An applicant must be at least 13 years old, the FAA says.
“Registration helps us ensure safety — for you, others on the ground, and manned aircraft. UAS, or unmanned aerial systems, pose new security and privacy challenges and must be traceable in the event of an incident,” the FAA says.
Drones and radio-controlled planes and helicopters weighing less than 0.55 pounds are not affected. That includes many of the drones on store shelves that typically retail for less than $100, the FAA says.
The FAA currently authorizes the use of unmanned aircraft systems for commercial purposes on a case-by-case basis.
Jon Patterson, owner of Flyover Systems in Mount Pleasant, said he uses high-end drones as a tool for his aerial photography, videography and mapping business.
“There needs to be something in place. You are flying something that could cause damage. How much, depends. Just like driving a car or owning a weapon,” he said.
FAA officials are hoping that hobby UAS registration will make drone operators more attuned to safety. Registration will make it easier for authorities to track down anyone involved in a drone crash or incident, the FAA said.
Rules now in place restrict hobbyists from flying above 400 feet. And they must stay at least 5 miles away from an airport.
The inaugural U.S. flight of one of Airbus’s newest aircraft models was supposed to be a big deal, showcasing the impressive new jumbo jet on its very first trip from New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport.
Instead, it was spectacularly terrifying and embarrassing fail. The high tech jet’s computer system aborted it’s own takeoff — because it deemed the runway too short.
Journalists and staff were among the passengers on the Airbus A350 for the chartered Qatar Airways flight that was supposed to travel 12 hours to Hamad International Airport.
The airplane even had screens on each seatback via which the passengers could watch the taxi and takeoff as it happened. Unfortunately, rather than watching the plane soar to 30,000 feet, it taxed, picked up speed — and then came to a startling and screeching halt.
According to The Points Guy Editor in Chief, Zach Honig, who was one 36 journalists and staff members on the charter flight, “About 18 seconds after we began rolling down JFK’s runway 22R, the aircraft self-aborted, bringing us from more than 100 mph to a loud, screeching halt in roughly 15 seconds.
“For a plane of this size and weight, stopping that quickly required a lot of force.”
Drones are attracting widespread attention for their potential use in a broad range of tasks, including aerial photography and goods delivery.
“Aerial space that is almost unused can be put to effective use (with drones), so an industrial revolution can take place in the sky,” said one industry official who was hopeful about the new opportunities in Japan being created by the unmanned aircraft.
Amendments to the Civil Aeronautics Act enacted earlier this month laid down a list of drone regulations, including a ban on flights over crowded residential areas or around airports without permission from the transport minister.
Afterward, the official acknowledged the importance of setting rules to ensure safety but also noted that exceedingly strict regulations could hamper the budding industry.
“(The government) should hold off on imposing detailed restrictions on drone use by operators,” the official said.
According to the Japan UAS Industrial Development Association, which consists of businesses and research institutes related to unmanned aircraft systems, drones have proliferated rapidly in recent years with the drop in sensor and gyroscope costs.
Models produced by Chinese maker DJI account for about 70 percent of all drone sales in Japan.
At a large appliance retailer in Tokyo’s Akihabara district, about 10 models are available. Camera-equipped aircraft cost from ¥10,000 to about ¥30,000, with most of the buyers men in their 30s or older.
“The number of manufacturers and models have increased in the past few months. They can loop the loop and are popular,” a sales representative said.
Drones were thrust into the spotlight in Japan after a small radioactive one eventually found on the roof of the prime minister’s office in Tokyo in April sparked a security scandal.
Models for outdoor use were initially popular, but after talks on regulation began, customer demand shifted to small, less expensive models for indoor use, the sales representative said. The models typically sell for several thousand yen.
In Japan, thousands of large models are being used to spray agricultural chemicals, while about 20,000 are employed for aerial photography and videography, according to the Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Ministry. There are more than 200,000 small, toy-type models in use around the country.
In Japan, drones have mainly been used for agrochemical spraying, but they are finding greater use in surveying tasks, helped in part by improved camera performance, Japan UAS Industrial Development Association officials said.
Research is also underway on using drones to maintain dilapidated bridges or transport supplies to remote islands or other sparsely populated areas.
“The aerial space up to 150 meters high, where airplanes are barred, has not been fully utilized, and drones can open a lot of opportunities,” said Tomoyuki Kumada, secretary-general of the association.
“Rules need to be worked out for crashes, but we hope free use will be protected as much as possible,” Kumada said.
In Marvel comics and movies, the mobile headquarters of the fictional intelligence/defense agency S.H.I.E.L.D. is a flying aircraft carrier, referred to as a “Helicarrier.” In the comic books, the flying aircraft carrier first appeared in 1965, which raises the obvious question — why was Marvel so far behind the times?
The US Navy had two flying aircraft carriers in the 1930s. The two sister rigid airships, USS Macon (ZRS-5) and USS Akron (ZRS-4), each carried five single-seat Curtiss F9C Sparrowhawk for scouting or two-seat Fleet N2Y-1 for training. The airships were designed to serve as long range scouts to locate and report on enemy ships, using onboard scout planes, which the airships could both launch and recover. The were intended to be the high-tech early-20th-century version of 18th century frigates, which also served as the “eyes of the fleet.”
Just slightly smaller than the Hindenberg, the USS Macon and USS Akron were among the largest rigid airships ever built. Unlike the Hindenberg, which was filled with hydrogen gas, the two American airships were filled with non-flammable helium. The Hindenberg was destroyed by fire in 1937, with the loss of thirty-six. Despite using the notionally safer helium, the USS Akron was destroyed in a thunderstorm off the coast of New Jersey in 1933, killing 73 of the 76 crewmen and passengers, the greatest loss of life in any known airship crash.
Only two years later, the USS Macon was also destroyed in a storm. It crashed off the coast of California’s Big Sur. Unlike the USS Akron, only two of the 76 crew members were lost, due at least in part to safety measures instituted after the tragedy of the crash of the USS Akron. USS Macon was the last rigigd airship ever built by the US Navy.
in 1991, the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI) located the wreck of USS Macon. An additional survey was performed in 2006. On August 18th, the team of E/V Nautilus released video of their recent exploration of the wreck in which they found parts of the ship as well as the Sparrowhawk biplanes it carried.
In a remote stretch of the Pacific Ocean southeast of New Zealand, the broken remains of space stations and robotic freighters litter the ocean floor, four kilometers below the waves. The world’s space agencies call this region the South Pacific Ocean Uninhabited Area. But it’s also called the Spacecraft Cemetery.
There are no islands in these waters, the nearest shores are thousands of kilometers away, and shipping traffic is relatively light here. It’s an ideal place for spacecraft to plunge back to Earth and die, far from any humans that might be injured by falling debris.
This lonely region is near Point Nemo, the point in the ocean which is furthest from any land mass. Named for Captain Nemo of Jules Verne’s classic sci-fi novel 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, this point sits at 48⁰25.6’ South latitude and 123⁰23.6’ West longitude — to reach land, you’d have to go 2,700 kilometers south to Antarctica.
These aren’t just the home waters of the fictional Lincoln Island, Captain Nemo’s last stronghold and the hidden port of the submarine Nautilus. H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu mythos also puts the sunken nightmare city of R’lyeh not too far from Point Nemo, right in the middle of the Spacecraft Cemetery.
The Spacecraft Cemetery is the final resting place of 145 of Russia’s Progress autonomous resupply ships, 4 of Japan’s HTV cargo craft, and 5 of the ESA’s Automated Transfer Vehicles. 6 Russian Salyut space stations and the venerable Mir space station lie alongside the freighters that once supplied them.
There’s a lot of space history down there, but of course, none of these spacecraft are just sitting neatly on the ocean floor in one piece. Or even two pieces. Re-entering the Earth’s atmosphere is a violent, destructive process for any object that tries it, whether it’s a meteor or a space station. Plunging into the atmosphere at high speed generates enough heat to burn up even rock or metal. That’s why so few large meteors make it to Earth; most of their mass burns away as they fall through the atmosphere. That’s also why piloted vehicles like the Space Shuttle or the Soyuz capsules are built with thermal shielding, to protect the spacecraft and its occupants on the way down.
Autonomous spacecraft like the Progress or ATV cargo ships weren’t built to survive re-entry, so the heat of hitting the atmosphere is inevitably fatal. The first of the ESA’s ATV ships, the aptly named Jules Verne, broke up about 75 kilometers above the Spacecraft Cemetery on September 29, 2009. It took 12 minutes for the remaining fragments of Jules Verne to splash into the Pacific. NASA observed Jules Verne’s fiery interment from two planes, a DC-8 and a Gulfstream jet, along the re-entry path, which means you can watch this video of a spacecraft’s final descent, shot from midair.
So far, the largest denizen of this undersea graveyard is the Mir, the 143-ton Russian space station which made its final dive in March of 2001, after 15 years in orbit. It started to break up about 95 kilometers in the air, and by the time it had fallen to 85 kilometers, the space station’s peripheral components had been ripped away, and its main structure had been to collapse. In the end, only 20 or 25 tons of Mir debris made it to the ocean, broken into about six main fragments.
Those high-tech remains are spread out over a huge distance. The South Pacific Ocean Uninhabited Area stretches about 3,000 kilometers from north to south, by about 5,000 kilometers from west to east. And any given spacecraft can scatter debris over a huge swath of ocean. Mir left a debris trail 3,000 kilometers long and 100 kilometers wide when it went down.
“Even in controlled entries, this will not be a point landing,” explained Holger Krag, head of ESA’s Space Debris Office, in late 2013, just before the ESA’s third ATV, Edoardo Amaldi, joined its predecessors in the deep. “The nature of this break up process brings it that we will have to clear quite a large area to make sure that all fragments will fall within the designated area, because they will not fall in one spot.”
A few days before a spacecraft’s de-orbit, the space agency who owns the spacecraft will notify aviation and maritime authorities in Chile and New Zealand, who share responsibility for traffic in the remote stretch of ocean. They offer information about expected re-entry times and where debris is likely to fall. Then the craft can begin its controlled plunge through the atmosphere to its final interment in these waters. It’s up to the aviation and maritime authorities to issue notices to pilots and merchant vessels, warning them to avoid the area.
On the Bottom of the Sea
The Spacecraft Cemetery lies on the boundary between the bathyal zone and the abyssal zone, 4 kilometers beneath the waves. It’s dark here, because no sunlight penetrates water this deep. Few fish live this far down; these depths are home to sponges, sea stars, squid, octopi, whales, and viperfish. Temperatures hover between 2⁰ and 4⁰C. For ships used to the cold and darkness of space, it just might feel like home.