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Drone launched from Guam in 2012 - US

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) - The US drone found off Masbate on Sunday, January 6, was used in a drill outside Philippine territory and launched from Guam on Sept 19, 2012, the US embassy in Manila said Tuesday, January 8.

"The unarmed target drone that washed ashore off the coast of Masabate Island is an expended BQM-74E Aerial Target drone that was launched from the USS Chafee (DDG 90) during exercise Valiant Shield 2012 on September 19, 2012 off the coast of Guam. It appears that ocean currents brought the drone to where it washed ashore last week off Masbate Island," said US embassy spokesperson Tina Malone in a statement.

Earlier, the Philippine military said the drone was launched outside the Philippines but veered off course before crashing into the water somewhere in the Pacific Ocean.

"It was not used in any exercise inside the Philippines," Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) spokesman Col Arnulfo Burgos told Rappler.

Burgos explained that the unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) is not a modern spy drone but an older model aerial target UAV normally employed in training drills by the US Navy in the Pacific Ocean.

Drone did not crash in PH

The AFP was not informed that the drone would venture into Philippine airspace as that was not the UAV's planned trajectory.

Burgos insisted that the device "did not crash" in Philippine territorial waters but was just retrieved off Masbate.

The 9-day-long Valiant Shield 2012 war games were held by the US Navy from September 19 in the region around Guam in order to improve coordination and joint interoperability among different units as a maritime force.

According to the American military, the goal of the drills is to train US forces for a variety of scenarios seen in real-world operations, including combat exercises, search-and-rescue, and humanitarian aid exercises.

The drone were launched from the flight deck of the USS Chafee missile destroyer to provide a "realistic missile threat" and then targeted, intercepted and engaged by a section of F/A-18 fighter jets.

Valiant Shield is a US-only biannual exercise conducted by the US Navy in Guam since 2006.

Under PH Navy custody

After the drone was first found by local fishermen who thought it was a bomb, the device was turned over to the Philippine Navy, who sent an Explosive Ordinance Disposal (EOD) team to check the UAV.

"We sent an EOD team to investigate, and once they found it to be safe, [the drone] was transported to the the Naval Forces Southern Luzon headquarters in Legaspi City," Burgos said.

The AFP spokesman also revealed that the orange-colored drone had a United States Agency for International Development (USAID) logo on it, but so far the USAID office in Manila has not claimed it.

Burgos noted that at this stage US Embassy is only asking for more information about the incident and the drone is currently in the custody of the Philippine Navy.

"We are coordinating for proper disposition [of the UAV] and [the Americans] have not made any request as of now" he said.

On the diplomatic side, the Department of Foreign Affairs stressed that it has been assured by the US Embassy that the drone "is by design and purpose solely used for target practice and not armed or used for surveillance."

"The presence and activities of US military personnel in the Philippines is governed by the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) between the Philippines and the United States. This matter will be dealt with in accordance with the treaty obligations contained in this agreement," said DFA spokesman Raul Hernandez.

FOUND BY FISHERMEN. This handout photo released by Philippine National Police (PNP) Masbate on January 7, 2013 shows Philippine fishermen preparing to unload from their wooden boat an unmanned aerial vehicle, which Philippine naval and police authorities believe is a US drone, after it was recovered in waters off San Jacinto town, Masbate province, central Philippines.

AFP PHOTO/PNP-MASBATE/PO3 ERWIN YUSI RIVERA

Found on Sunday

Masbate police initially reported that the drone found on Sunday morning had crashed into the sea.

Provincial police director Senior Supt. Heriberto Olitoquit said on Monday that the device was retrieved near Sitio Tacdugan, San Jacinto.

"It appears to have been floating for quite some time," Captain Rommel Galang, deputy commander of naval forces in the area, later told AFP.

"We will first study this drone but initially it appears to be a UAV used largely in reconnaissance."

The device -- a model BQM-74E Chukar III manufactured by US-based Northrup Grumman Corporation -- is 3.93 m long and 71 cm high with a wingspan of 1.75 m, and is normally used in reconaissance missions by the US military although it is capable of delivering payloads and conducting surveillance operations.

US Embassy spokeswoman Tina Malone said on Monday that the drone "appears to be of the sort that is used as an air defense target in training exercises."

"This type of vehicle is not armed and not used for surveillance."

US training PH military in using drones

The US has been training the Philippine military to use these drones against Muslim rebels in Mindanao, according to various US and Philippine officials.

In an interview with AFP last year, President Benigno Aquino III confirmed that the Philippines has been allowing US drones to overfly its territory for reconnaissance flights, but were not allowed to make strikes.

Activist group Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) on Tuesday asked the Senate to conduct an investigation on the US military’s use of drones in the Philippines.

“The unrestricted use of US drones in PH airspace is a violation of our national sovereignty. No sovereign nation would allow a foreign power unhampered use of domestic airspace. Do you think the US will allow the Philippines the same privilege in US airspace?” Bayan secretary general Renato Reyes Jr. said in a statement.

Rappler reported in March that US smart bombs delivered by a different model Scan Eagle UAV were used for the first time on Philippine territory in a February 2 attack on Abu Sayyaf and Jemaah Islamiyah terrorists.

The raid was the result of 15 months of training and technology transfer from the United States to Filipino forces under a new aid program for counterterrorism efforts approved in 2010.

About 600 US forces have been rotating in the southern Philippines since 2002 as part of the US government's global war on terror. - Rappler.com, with reports from Agence France-Presse