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August 7, 2020

Taiwan in talks for purchase of sophisticated US drones

World

 
August 7, 2020

WASHINGTON: The United States is negotiating the sale of at least four of its large sophisticated aerial drones to Taiwan for the first time, according to six US sources familiar with the negotiations, in a deal that is likely to ratchet up tensions with China. The SeaGuardian surveillance drones have a range of 6,000 nautical miles (11,100 km), far greater than the 160-mile range of Taiwan’s current fleet of drones.

While the sale of the unmanned aerial vehicles has been tacitly authorized by the State Department, 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 has to be approved by members of Congress who may receive formal notification as soon as next month, two of the people said. Congress could choose to block a final agreement. It 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).

While Taiwan’s military is well-trained and well-equipped with mostly US-made hardware, China has a huge numerical superiority and is adding advanced equipment of its own.

Taiwan submitted its request to buy armed drones early this year, one of the people familiar with the talks said. The United States 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 $600 million using previous sales as a guide. There could also be options for additional units in the future, one of the people said.