This vessel was spotted in the Florida Keys. (Photo: Imgur)
Spotting this out in the middle of the ocean in the Florida Keys while on a boating excursion might raise some eyebrows.
A member of the social news site Reddit going by Tackorjibe posted this image on Imgur and began a thread to try and identify it. Tackorjibe claims he found it recently and noted that the orange, floating vessel had U.S. Air Force decals on it. Some have speculated that it was a pod filled with drugs. Another joked "good try North Korea." But the majority sided with it being a target drone.
Looking into target drones used by the military, TheBlaze too thinks this could be the case.
More specifically, the vessel appears to be a BQM-167 Air Force Subscale Aerial Target, which was used in air-to-air tests and evaluation programs, according to the military's fact sheet about the device.
These are more photos of a similar drone being recovered:
The crew from Florida Offshore steadies and lowers the BQM-167 sub-scale drone to the cradle after a recovery demonstration July 22, 2009, in the waters off Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla. The ship used for recovery is one of only three 120-foot boats owned by the Air Force. The Florida Offshore crew is contracted through the 82nd Aerial Targets Squadron to help recover sub-scale drones after they are shot down during live-fire exercises. (Photo: U.S. Air Force photo/Samuel King Jr.)
Byron Howle helps diver Ray Gallien to secure the BQM-167 sub-scale drone during a recovery demonstration recently in the waters off Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla. (Photo: U.S. Air Force photo/Samuel King Jr.)
Here's more about the BQM-167 from the fact sheet:
The drone is land-launched using a rocket assisted takeoff and launched from a rail system. The drone can be recovered by a parachute recovery system either from land or water. Recovered targets are repaired, tested and reused. The BQM-167A can carry a full range of current Air Force subscale target payloads which include a scoring system, infrared and radar enhancements, electronic attack pods and a chaff/flare dispenser set.
A Redditor claiming to work at Tyndall AFB control tower wrote they can confirm it is in fact a BQM-167 and it came from them.
Talk on the Reddit thread quickly changed from what the object could be to how much it could raise if it were picked up and sold -- and whether that would even be legal. The fact sheet states that the device costs $570,000. According to a 2005 story posted by a Redditor, 60 of these drones made by Northrup Grumman were purchased for $24 million.
What would the reward be for picking up and returning such a device to the military -- if any? A Redditor mentioned laws in the U.S. seeking to protect sensitive information and technologies might apply in this instance. The Redditor mein_liebchen called up this story regarding salvage rights:
You will recall the case of the Spanish fisherman in 1966 who saw where the US lost a hydrogen bomb at sea. He asserted salvage rights and was paid millions...
Once the bomb was located, Simó Orts appeared at the First District Federal Court in New York City with his lawyer, Herbert Brownell, formerly Attorney General of the United States under President Dwight D. Eisenhower, claiming salvage rights on the recovered hydrogen bomb. According to Craven:
It is customary maritime law that the person who identifies the location of a ship to be salved has the right to a salvage award if that identification leads to a successful recovery. The amount is nominal, usually 1 or 2 percent, sometimes a bit more, of the intrinsic value to the owner of the thing salved. But the thing salved off Palomares was a hydrogen bomb, the same bomb valued by no less an authority than the Secretary of Defense at $2 billion—each percent of which is, of course, $20 million.
All in all though, the Redditor who posted the image said he decided to leave it where it floated.
"Left it. Didn't want to be the idoit (sic) on the news who died when it blew up," Tackorjibe wrote.
Another fisherman finding a similar target a couple years ago towed it back to shore with him and turned it in to the local air force base. The account of the 2010 recovery doesn't mention if the fisherman receiving a reward or not.