The "unclassified" LBS-Glider System that China stole. Note that in the Glider's description is the classified "Optimize ocean feature characterization for tactical and operational products for ASW, [mine warfare] MIW, [anti-mine-warfare] AMW, and Special Ops." (Slide courtesy US Navy).
The US Defense Department said the Unmanned Underwater Vehicle (UUV) stolen by the Chinese Navy on 15 December 2016 is part of an "unclassified" Littoral Battlespace Sensing-Glider (LBS-G) system. "Unclassified" is not strictly correct. Teledyne Webb along with the USN Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command developed the LBS-G.
In the 15 December case the Glider was apparently collecting oceanographic data (such as sea water salinity, water temperature, depth, other seafloor characteristics, sound speed and other factors) to assist the USN in ASW, [mine warfare] MIW, [anti-mine-warfare] AMW, and Special Ops. Put another way the Glider assists USN sensor platforms and databases to track foreign submarines (including Chinese) or mines and aids the discrete movement of US submarines to evade detection.
On 20 December 2016 (US time) is was reported that China has returned the Glider in question.
A glider used for monitoring salinity and ocean temperatures including propagation of heat.The Gliders can be used to study undersea internal wave behaviour which can then make it easier for US and allied submarines to hide under different undersea water temperature layers - called thermoclines.
- 3min, 45secs - instead of a propeller a buoyancy pump glides this UUV over extreme ranges.
Gliders are too slow to shadow SSKs but larger propeller driven UUVs can.
- 4min, 25secs into the youtube a trans-Atlantic crossing shows how far gliders can travel.
The LBS-G is a long endurance UUV propelled by changes in buoyancy along with its wings and tail-fin steering. The 60 kg LBS-Gs can operate submerged up to 5 months using Lithium-ion Batteries (LIBs). LBS-Gs are deployed by USN and USNS ships (like United States Naval Ship (USNS) Bowditch) around the world.
Location ofLittoral Battlespace Sensing-Glider (LBS-G) UUV theft.
China's technical aim is to develop its own UUVs and sees theft of Western UUVs, followed by reverse engineering, as a way to lower research costs and shorten development times. So China would have pulled apart the Glider and conducted testing of the computer software and hardware as well as on the electrical contents.
China has also used the theft for the political aim of widening the wedge between the Philippines and the US. With Philippines President Duterte now siding with China (or its money) the theft might also be used as an excuse for the Philippines to direct a diplomatic protest at the innocent USA. This is because some Filipino politicians have chosen to view US testing of the Glider as a violation of the Philippines 200 mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ).
China has also decided to use the theft (50 nautical miles northwest of Subic Bay, Philippines) as an example of the US violating Chinese seaspace, even though the theft occurred outside China’s imaginary Nine-Dash-Line.