US spy drone seen over South China Sea headed for Taiwan, Chinese think tank says

US spy drone seen over South China Sea headed for Taiwan, Chinese think tank says

  • United States could be seeking to track Chinese navy’s underwater activities in the region, observer says
  • It comes as Washington steps up military presence after formally rejecting most of Beijing’s claims to the waterway

The United States has sent a high-altitude spy drone over the South China Sea, a Chinese think tank said on Thursday, days after Washington declared most of Beijing’s claims in the hotly contested waterway were “unlawful”.

The US Navy MQ-4C Triton – a long endurance unmanned aerial vehicle – was seen flying towards the southeast of Taiwan at about noon on Wednesday, according to the SCS Probing Initiative (SCSPI), a Peking University think tank.

It said a US P-8A anti-submarine aircraft and a KC-135R aerial refuelling aircraft were also seen on Thursday flying southwest of Taiwan over the South China Sea.While details of the air patrols were unclear, military observers said the US Navy appeared to be stepping up reconnaissance efforts in the strategic waterway that is seen as a potential flashpoint between Beijing and Washington.

The Triton drone seen on Wednesday is part of the US Navy’s Maritime Patrol and Reconnaissance Force. Operated autonomously using maritime sensors, it can work with the manned anti-submarine aircraft to carry out intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions over vast ocean and coastal regions.