Fallen drone … A US-made unmanned aerial vehicle, identified as a BQM-74E target drone, was recovered in waters off San Jacinto town on Ticao Island, Masbate, early Sunday morning. -- Photo courtesy of MASBATE PROVINCIAL POLICE OFFICE
By JONAS CABILES SOLTES, TARRA QUISMUNDO
NAGA CITY:A four-meter-long, US-made unmanned aerial vehicle - or “drone” - has been recovered by fishermen in the waters off San Jacinto town on Ticao Island in Masbate, the police chief in the island-province said on Monday.
The drone was seen drifting by fishermen Jolly Llacer and Ricky Cantoria, who fished it out on Sunday morning and brought it with them to San Jacinto without knowing what it was, Senior Supt Heriberto Olitoquit said in a phone interview.
Olitoquit said the two fishermen turned it over to village officials and then to San Jacinto policemen, who initially reported to the provincial police office that the object was a “bomb.”
Police operatives who rushed to the area determined it was an American-made unmanned aerial vehicle, based on the markings found on the object, Olitoquit said.
Based on the markings, the drone had the following technical descriptions:
Aerial Target Drone
BQM-74E Chukar III
Part No.: 89500-517
Model: BQM 74E
Serial Number: BQ 55048
Contract No.: N00019-05-C0040
Cage No.: 77646
Acceptance Date: April 14, 2008
The drone has a wingspan of 1.76m and a height of .71m, Olitoquit said.
The word “Navy” is written on one side of the drone.
Drones are commonly used for military or nonmilitary surveillance and/or reconnaissance.
In Manila, the US Embassy said the drone that landed off Masbate was neither armed nor used for intelligence gathering.
The embassy has yet to say categorically if US forces deployed it.
US Embassy spokesperson Tina Malone said the embassy was still gathering details about the recovered drone, including whether American troops had launched it and where it was launched.
“We are aware of reports that an apparently US-made unmanned aerial vehicle was recovered in the waters off Masbate this weekend,” Malone told the Inquirer by text.
She said the drone was the kind typically used in military training.
“The recovered vehicle appears to be of the sort that is used as an air defense target in training exercises,” Malone said.
“This type of vehicle is not armed and not used for surveillance. We are trying to confirm this interpretation and to determine how and when it may have landed in the sea.”
An aerial target drone is known to be manufactured by American aerospace and defense technology firm Northrop Grumman.
Olitoquit said the Masbate police immediately reported the recovery of the drone to the Philippine National Police headquarters in Camp Crame in Quezon City.
He said he was later informed by Camp Crame that the Office of the National Security Adviser had asked the Philippine Navy to retrieve the drone and bring it to Manila on Monday.
Navy personnel have been sent to San Jacinto to recover the drone.
Maj. Apollo Herrera, executive officer of the 9th Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army based in Milagros town in Masbate, said the drone was recovered about 300m from the shore.
According to Herrera, the initial information from the PNP was that the object was an ammunition from a US gunship.
As of 3pm on Monday, both the PNP and the Army had no idea why a US drone was drifting in the waters off Masbate.
Olitoquit allayed fears of a national security threat, saying a drone could also be used by commercial and private entities for charting or map-making.
But he said it was up to the higher authorities to determine the implication of the recovery of the drone on national security.
Based on information on the Internet, the BQM-74 Chukar is a series of aerial target drones produced by Northrop and its users include the US Navy and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (Nato).
It is said to be used primarily as a realistic aerial target, capable of simulating enemy threats for gunnery and missile training exercises.
Chukar is the name of an Asian species of partridge, which is said to be hunted for sport.
In the 1991 Gulf War, according to an Internet article, BQM-74Cs were used as decoys during the initial air attacks into Iraq. -- Inquirer