Donald Trump accuses China of stealing underwater drone

Jim Michaels
U.S. President Donald Trump looks on during a rally at the DeltaPlex Arena, December 9, 2016 in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
Drew Angerer I Getty Images

A U.S. Navy underwater drone operating in international waters was captured by a Chinese warship in the South China Sea, Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook said in a statement on Friday.

On Saturday, President-elect Donald Trump weighed in on the incident and accused China of stealing the drone.

More from USA Today:
FBI backs CIA conclusion that Russia hacked to help Trump
Trump picks SC Rep. Mick Mulvaney for budget director
China's richest man has a message for President-elect Trump

"China steals United States Navy research drone in international waters — rips it out of water and takes it to China in unprecedented act," Trump said in an early-morning tweet.

Donald Trump tweet

Trump originally misspelled "unprecedented," but later deleted the tweet and reposted.

The drone was launched by the USNS Bowditch, a civilian crewed oceanographic ship that is operated by the Military Sealift Command, off the coast of the Philippines. These types of drones, called gliders, typically collect unclassified data, such as water temperatures and salinity levels.

According to Cook, the drone is not armed and is used for gathering weather and temperature data. The incident occurred Thursday.

The Bowditch was about to recover the glider when a Chinese Dalang III class Chinese warship approached within 500 yards of the Bowditch, launched a small vessel and snatched the drone out of the water, the Pentagon said.

The boat brought the device back to the Chinese warship, which then headed away.

The Bowditch contacted the Chinese vessel by radio and demanded the return of the glider. The Chinese ship acknowledged the radio transmission but ignored the request to return it, the Pentagon said.

The U.S. government has issued a démarche, or diplomatic protest, over the incident, demanding its return.

The incident comes at a sensitive time in U.S.-China relations. President-elect Donald Trump has been critical of the Chinese, saying they have gotten the better of trade deals between the two nations.

The South China Sea is a region where the Chinese have attempted to extend their influence and military presence. The U.S. has insisted on its right to transit through the region in international waters.