In a significant development, six U.S. sources familiar with the negotiations have disclosed, the United States is negotiating the sale of at least four sophisticated aerial drones to Taiwan.
Armed with the SeaGuardian surveillance drones, that have a range of 6,000 nautical miles (11,100 km), significantly greater than the 160-mile range drones that Taiwan currently possesses, giving the island nation a greater capacity to thwart any potential Chinese move that impinges on its sovereignty. It will also enable Taipei to peer deeper into China, allowing it to observe its missile and air force facilities.
According to two sources, the State Department has given its nod for the potential sale, however it is still to be determined whether the drones will have weapons attached to them. The deal, which must be approved by members of the Congress, is not likely to gel well with China, which has made questionable claims over several territories with its neighbors.
Taiwan’s Defense Ministry declined to comment.
Although Taiwan’s military is well-trained and well-equipped with mostly U.S.-made hardware, Beijing has a numerical advantage and is adding advanced equipment of its own including aircraft carriers, stealth fighters, and anti-satellite missiles.
According to a source, the deal for four drones, including ground stations, training, spares and support, is likely to be around $600 million using previous sales as a baseline. The deal could also include options for additional units in the future, said a source.
Taiwan is in the process of ramping up its defenses in the face of increasingly threatening moves by Beijing; the Chinese navy and air force routinely come very close to Taiwan and conduct naval exercises close to the island nation as well.
In the wake of these threats, Taipei has boosted its defense spending with President Tsai Ing-wen making defense modernization a priority last year. The country is also building new submarines and upgrading its F-16 fighter fleet.
The development comes at a time when China forcible imposed its draconian law over Hong Kong which further soured Beijing and Washington relations. Despite China’s aggressive stance, the Trump Administration has sent a steady number of warships through the Taiwan Strait. The Pentagon has also maintained that arms sales to Taiwan will continue.
Incidentally, China has not renounced the use of force to annex Taiwan and has denounced the Trump administration’s support for the Taipei.