Taiwan in talks with US to purchase advanced drones

Taipei put in request to buy four General Atomics MQ-9B SeaGuardian drones early this year

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General Atomics MQ-9B SeaGuardian drone (General Atomics website photo)

General Atomics MQ-9B SeaGuardian drone (General Atomics website photo)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — Taiwan is in talks with the United States to purchase at least four sophisticated aerial drones, according to six U.S. sources familiar with the negotiations, Reuters reported.

The General Atomics MQ-9B SeaGuardian surveillance drones have much longer range and endurance compared to Taiwan’s current drone fleet. The MQ-9B can fly for over 40 hours and has a range of 6,000 nautical miles (11,100 km), while the Taiwanese Albatross drone has an endurance of 12 hours and a range of 97 nautical miles (180 km).

The U.S. State Department has quietly authorized the deal, two sources told Reuters, although it is unknown if the drones will be equipped with armament, one of them said. The purchase has to be approved by Congress, which could receive a formal notification as soon as next month, said two sources.

Democratic and Republican U.S. senators on Thursday (Aug. 6) introduced legislation that would prohibit sales of American drones to nations that are not close allies with the U.S. Drone sales would be allowed for NATO members, Australia, New Zealand, South Korea, Japan, and Israel.

Taipei had put in the request to purchase armed drones early this year, a source told Reuters, and Washington sent Taiwan the pricing and availability data for the purchase just last week, an important step that indicates official approval for the sale. However, this document is non-binding and does not guarantee a deal.

The potential sale includes four SeaGuardian drones, ground stations, spare parts, training, and support and is valued at around US$600 million based on previous sales. One of the sources also added there could be an option for future additional unit purchases.

While the U.S. has sold many weapons to Taiwan, a drone deal would be significant in that only close allies — such as the U.K., Italy, Australia, South Korea, and Japan — have been cleared to buy advanced U.S. drones, according to Reuters. Taiwan currently has 26 Albatross drones developed by the National Chung-Shan Institute of Science and Technology (NCIST), each weighing 55 kg with a 5.3-meter long fuselage and 8.6-meter wingspan.