US drone washes up on PH beach; US says it came from Guam

MANILA, Philippines – Another US drone was found off the coast of the Philippines on Sunday, January 4, prompting the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) to condemn what it said was evidence of "continuing US surveillance and intervention in the country."

The US embassy in Manila has confirmed it is a drone of the US Navy but said it is a target drone, not a surveillance drone. It did not carry weapons either, it said. 

It was supposedly used during a military exercise conducted in September 2014 in waters off Guam and within international airspace.

"The unarmed aerial target that was found off the coast of Patnanungan Islet on January 4, is an expended BQM-74E Aerial Target that was launched during naval exercise Valiant Shield 2014 which took place September 15-23 in the waters off Guam," the US embassy said in a statement on Tuesday, January 6.

"The aerial target does not carry weapons and is not used for surveillance. The BQM-74E Aerial Target is used by surface ships and aircraft during exercises to help train our sailors in a realistic environment that provides the best possible training," the US embassy added.

The Exercise Valiant Shield 2014 is a US-only biennial field training exercise that involved 18,000 US troops and 200 aircraft and 20 ships. It was focused on integration of joint training among US forces in areas of maritime security operations, anti-submarine, air defense and space and cyber warfighting proficiencies.

Target drone

The discovery of the US drone recalls a similar incident two years ago, when a US drone with a similar serial number – BQM-74E Chukar III – was also found in adjacent Masbate island. (READ: US drone crashes off Masbate – police

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) also dismissed as "highly speculative" claims that the drone was used for surveillance. 

AFP spokesperson Colonel Restituto Padilla said current exercises between the US and Philippine militaries do not involve target drones or remote-controlled targets. 

"We don't have any kind of drone targetting exercises in the Philippines," Padilla said.

Snowden documents 

Kabataan party-list Representative Terry Ridon is not convinced, however. He said Washington should account for the presence of US spy planes in Philippine territory.

“We fear that the US military is exploiting the growing tension in the Philippine Sea to deploy spy planes and warships in our territory," Ridon said. 

"In the guise of protecting the Philippine claim over the disputed shoals and reefs, the US military may, in fact, be surveying the area to assess the value of its oil and mineral reserves which their country surely has an interest in,” he added.

Ridon also cited leaked documents from National Security Agency (NSA) whistleblower Edward Snowden which exposed a spying program for surveillance operations in several countries, including the Philippines.

Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte previously disclosed that he rejected a US government request him to use the city’s old airport, which is beside the tactical base of the Philippine Air Force, as an operating base for its drones in its campaign against terrorism in Mindanao. 

Missed target

The target drones are simulated aircraft that American fighter jet pilots, for example, use as targets to shoot down during exercises.

The US Air Force and the US Navy have been using them as targets. Aircraft and ships imagine them as enemy targets and try to shoot them down with missiles or its guns. 

Unlike surveillance drones, target drones are expendable "fire and forget items" intended to be destroyed in the air. 

The drone found in Quezon was obviously not hit. It likely ran out of fuel, crashed into the sea, and was later washed up on Quezon Island. 

"Those are expendable items. If they get lost, they dont bother to recover it," said Padilla. 

Padilla said tides in the Pacific Ocean are capable of bringing items like drones from Guam to the Philippines. 

"If you recall, when there was a tsunami in Japan, the tides took different directions and some of the debris washed out by the tsunami were found in the US coast, some of which were found in the coastlines of Hawaii," said Padilla. – Rappler.com