China just unveiled an underwater drone that could one day even the odds against the US and its top allies

China navyChinese navy personnel perform at an event celebrating the 70th anniversary of the founding of the Chinese People's Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) in Qingdao, China, April 22, 2019.Jason Lee / REUTERS

  • The People's Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) showed off a large unmanned underwater vehicle (UUV) called the HSU-001 at the 70th anniversary of the Chinese Communist Party's (CCP) rule on October 1.
  • The UUV will most likely be used to spy on US allies in the region, rather than carrying out armed missions.
  • The US is developing its own UUVs, including small ones that can be dropped from airplanes and used in swarms for reconnaissance or to lay mines, according to Bryan Clark, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments (CBSA) and an expert on undersea warfare.
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The 70th anniversary of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) was an occasion to show off some of the military hardware the People's Liberation Army (PLA) has been developing.

One weapon the PLA Navy paraded in Tiananmen Square is the HSU-001, a large underwater unmanned vehicle (UUV) that Bryan Clark, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments (CBSA) and an expert on undersea warfare, told Insider will likely be used fior reconnaissance, particularly of US allies in the region.

But while this new technology is certainly strategically useful for China, the CCP hasn't overtaken US military technology just yet.

Read more: These are the 25 most powerful militaries in the world in 2019

"We assume they're good," Clark said of China's HSU-001. But "they've got a long way to go."

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The HSU001 unmanned underwater vehicle (UUV) was paraded through Tiananmen Square during China's 70th National Day parade on October 1.

The HSU001 unmanned underwater vehicle (UUV) was paraded through Tiananmen Square during China's 70th National Day parade on October 1.

The HSU-001 is primarily a reconnaissance drone, Clark told Insider.

"If it's real, and I assume it's probably real," he said, "it looks like it's designed mostly for intelligence gathering."

According to Clark, it's not large enough to carry large munitions in addition to the engine, batteries, and electrical systems it would need to carry in order to travel underwater for the weeks or months it would need to.

"It doesn't really look like it's made for mine-laying," he said.

The masts atop the drone would be used to transmit intelligence back to the People's Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) via satellite, Clark explained. While that communication could potentially be intercepted, in all likelihood the drone would move positions by the time it did, posing little risk for the vessel itself.

This UUV technology is a good investment in helping China gather intelligence on the US and its allies.

This UUV technology is a good investment in helping China gather intelligence on the US and its allies.

The UUV is a strategically smart investment for China because it can be deployed from the mainland, or one of its many bases in the South China Sea, which are in close proximity to a number of nations friendly to the US, including the Philippines and Taiwan.

And in the East China Sea — where the UUV would most likely be used, Clark said, given its endurance of a couple of months at most — it could gather intelligence on Japan, one of the US's most important allies in the Pacific.

"China has lots of territory in proximity to US allies," but the reverse isn't true, Clark pointed out. The US he said, is at a strategic disadvantage in the UUV race against China, he said, "because it's an away game."

But US technology still outpaces Chinese on the UUV front.

But US technology still outpaces Chinese on the UUV front.

The US has been developing its own UUVs, in a variety of sizes and with a variety of uses, Clark told Insider.

The Orca, an extra-large UUV currently being developed for the Navy by Boeing, could have a variety of uses, including anti-submarine warfare, mine countermeasures, electronic warfare, and strike missions, USNI News reports.

The US is also developing medium-sized drones that can be used as torpedoes, and tiny UUVs three to six inches in diameter that can be used in swarms. They could be dropped by planes and used to deliver small mines, or as reconnaissance, Clark told Insider.

Chinese electronic systems are untested, and, as Clark told Insider, "in general, propulsion technology has not been the strong suit of the Chinese." Their engine technology is has historically been second-rate, although it is showing signs of improvement.

Still, though,"the problem becomes reliability."

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