HANOI, Vietnam, Jan. 13 (UPI) -- Vietnam is stepping up maritime reconnaissance missions in the South China Sea.
The Vietnam Academy of Science and Technology told Vietnam Net and local press long-range drones are to be deployed in disputed waters.
The unmanned aerial vehicles have a wingspan of 22 meters, can carry a maximum load of 1.35 tons and can fly nonstop for 35 hours without refueling.
Vietnam's Minister of Science and Technology Nguyen Quan said a test flight of the drone was "completed successfully" and that it is "ready to fly over the South China Sea," Yonhap reported Thursday, local time.
Hanoi plans to equip the drones with surveillance cameras and radars.
In addition to aircraft development Vietnam also is expecting to expand into submarines used in underwater reconnaissance when it purchases its fifth Kilo-class submarine. In 2009, Vietnam purchased six submarines from Russia for $2 billion, with each submarine capable of carrying a crew of 52 people for 45 days.
China has drawn strong responses from its neighbors after claiming the disputed Spratly Islands and building airstrips or runways on reclaimed land.
The United States, a non-claimant country, has requested the activities come to an end but the warning has gone unheeded in Beijing.
Washington recently received a go-ahead from the Philippine Supreme Court to move forward with a stalled Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement that would allow U.S. troops to maintain bases in the country.
China is likely to step up defense measures. Quoting state media outlet Global Times, Bloomberg reported Beijing's near-complete coast guard ship, China Coast Guard vessel 3901, is likely to be deployed in the South China Sea.
The ship can carry 76-millimeter rapid-fire guns, two auxiliary guns and two anti-aircraft machine guns, Chinese state media reported.