U.S. eager to sell SeaGuardian surveillance drones to Taiwan

The United States is negotiating the sale of at least four sophisticated aerial drones to Taiwan for the first time, according to six US sources familiar with the negotiations, aircraft that can keep watch over huge swathes of sea and land.

By MIKE STONE
SOURCE: THE INDEPENDENT

The SeaGuardian surveillance drones have a range of 6,000 nautical miles (11,100 km), far greater than the 160-mile (257.5-kilometre) range of Taiwan’s current fleet of drones, potentially giving the island greater capacity to peer into China, observing its air force, missiles and other facilities.

While the State Department tacitly authorised the sale of the unmanned aerial vehicles, two of the people said, it is not known whether the US officials have approved exporting the drones with weapons attached, one of them said. The deal must be approved by members of congress, who may receive formal notification as soon as next month, two of the people said.

Congress could block a final agreement. Such a sale would most likely anger China, which claims Taiwan as its own territory. Republican and Democratic US senators introduced legislation on Thursday that would block the export, transfer or trade of many advanced drones to countries that are not close US allies.

Sales would be allowed to NATO members, Australia, New Zealand, South Korea, Japan and Israel. A deal with Taiwan would be the first drone sale after President Donald Trump’s administration moved ahead with its plan to sell more drones to more countries by reinterpreting an international arms control agreement called the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR).

Taiwan’s Defence Ministry declined to comment. While Taiwan’s military is well-trained and well-equipped with mostly US-made hardware, China has a huge numerical advantage and is adding advanced equipment of its own, including stealthy fighters, anti-satellite missiles and aircraft carriers.

Taiwan submitted its request to buy armed drones early this year, one of the people familiar with the talks said. The US last week sent Taiwan the pricing and availability data for the deal, a key step that denotes official approval to advance the sale.

It is, however, non-binding and could be reversed. A deal for the four drones, ground stations, spares, training and support could be worth around $600m (£457.8m) using previous sales as a guide.

There could also be options for additional units in the future, one of the people said. The island is bolstering its defences in the face of what it sees as increasingly threatening moves by Beijing, such as regular Chinese air force and naval exercises near Taiwan. READ MORE HERE