US advances sale of MQ-9 drones, Harpoon missiles to Taiwan

White House adds 2 more weapons to arms deal with Taiwan as election looms

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MQ-9 Reaper drone. (YouTube, US Military News screenshot)

MQ-9 Reaper drone. (YouTube, US Military News screenshot)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — A day after announcing the sale of three sophisticated weapons systems to Taiwan, the Trump administration has notified Congress of the approved sale of two more advanced armaments.

As tensions heat up between the U.S. and China over the trade war, Wuhan coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, national security law in Hong Kong, and human rights abuses in Xinjiang, President Donald Trump is looking to take a tougher stance with Beijing. Reuters on Tuesday (Oct. 13) cited eight sources saying that the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations and House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs had been informally notified of the State Department's approval of the sale of two advanced weapons systems to Taiwan, in addition to the three announced the previous day.

The two systems that are reportedly part of the deal include advanced General Atomics MQ-9 drones and the shore-mounted Harpoon missile system. Combined with the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS), Standoff Land Attack Missile-Expanded Response (SLAM-ER), and external sensor pods that the Trump administration had announced on Monday (Oct. 12), the total cost of the weapons package has reached US$5 billion.


Harpoon missile launch. (Twitter, Boeing Defense photo)

The news of the MQ-9 drone sale is the first since the Trump administration opted to go ahead with plans to increase drone sales worldwide after reinterpreting the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) arms control agreement. One of Reuters' sources said the sale will include about 100 Harpoon anti-ship missiles, which are manufactured by Boeing and cost approximately US$2 billion, to defend Taiwan's coastline.

The five weapons are reportedly part of a larger package of seven systems, which will also include underwater smart mines, and M109A6 Paladin self-propelled howitzers, for a grand total of US$7 billion. Formal notification of such an arms deal to Congress is usually given 30 days after informal notice, but the process can be accelerated if it receives wide approval.

The deal comes at a time when China has stepped up its aggressive military pressure on Taiwan with nearly daily incursions by People's Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) warplanes into Taiwan's air defense identification zone (ADIZ) since Sept. 16. With the American presidential election only three weeks away, Trump may be pushing the sale to make him appear tougher on China than his Democratic rival Joe Biden.