U.S. Approves $600 Million Sale of Four Weapons-Ready MQ-9B Drones to Taiwan

The U.S. State Department has approved a possible sale of four Weapons-Ready MQ-9B Remotely Piloted Aircraft to Taiwan under the Foreign Military Sales (FMS) program.

The Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA), which oversees FMS sales, delivered the required certification notifying Congress of this possible sale on Nov. 3. The formal notification gives Congress 30 days to object to any sales, but this is unlikely given broad bipartisan support for Taiwan.

This would be the first FMS approval of a sophisticated drone since U.S. policy on the export of its closely guarded drone technology was loosened by the Trump Administration.

The complete sales package, worth $600 million, approved for Taiwan, represented by the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office (TECRO) in the U.S., includes four Weapons-Ready MQ-9B Remotely Piloted Aircraft; two Fixed Ground Control Stations; two Mobile Ground Control Stations; and 14 Embedded Global Positioning System/Inertial Navigations Systems (EGI) with Selective Availability Anti-Spoofing Module (SAASM) (12 installed, 2 spares).

Also included are MX-20 Multi-Spectral Targeting Systems and spares; SeaVue Maritime Multi-Role Patrol Radars; SAGE 750 Electronic Surveillance Measures (ESM) Systems; C-Band Line-of-Sight (LOS) Ground Data Terminals; Ku-Band SATCOM GA-ASI Transportable Earth Stations (GATES); AN/DPX-7 IFF Transponders; Honeywell TPE-331-10GD Turboprop Engines; M6000 UHF/VHF Radios; KIV-77 Mode 5 IFF cryptographic appliques; AN/PYQ-10C Simple Key Loaders; secure communications, cryptographic and Identification Friend or Foe (IFF) equipment; initial spare and repair parts; hard points, power, and data connections for weapons integration; support and test equipment; publications and technical documentation; personnel training and training equipment; U.S. Government and contractor engineering, technical, and logistics support services; and other related elements of logistical and program support.

The principal contractor of the sale will be General Atomic Aeronautical System, Inc. (GA-ASI), San Diego, CA. This drone is designated as MQ-9B SeaGuardian by GA-ASI.

“This proposed sale is consistent with U.S. law and policy as expressed in Public Law 96-8. This proposed sale serves U.S. national, economic, and security interests by supporting the recipient’s continuing efforts to modernize its armed forces and to maintain a credible defensive capability. The proposed sale will help improve the security of the recipient and assist in maintaining political stability, military balance, economic and progress in the region,” said a DSCA statement.

“This proposed sale will improve the recipient’s capability to meet current and future threats by providing timely Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR), target acquisition, and counter-land, counter-sea, and anti-submarine strike capabilities for its security and defense. The capability is a deterrent to regional threats and will strengthen the recipient’s self-defense. The recipient will have no difficulty absorbing these systems into its armed forces”, the statement said.

“The proposed sale of this equipment and support will not alter the basic military balance in the region.”

The approval for the SeaGuardian sale is likely to add to already strained ties with China. Beijing considers Taiwan a wayward province that it has vowed to bring under control, by force if necessary, while Washington is required by law to provide the country with the means to defend itself.

This drone package is fifth high-profile sales package approved by the U.S. for Taiwan in the past two weeks.

On Oct. 21, the U.S. State Department approved a possible sale of $1.8 billion worth of armaments, consisting of HIMARS launchers, missiles and reconnaissance pods, to Taiwan under the FMS program. The potential sale includes 11 M142 HIMARS (High Mobility Artillery Rocket System) launchers along with 64 M57 ATACMS (Army Tactical Missile System) tactical ballistic missiles (TBMs) with a combined estimated worth of $436.1 million, 135 AGM-84H SLAM-ER (Standoff Land Attack Missile Expanded Response) air-launched stand-off cruise missiles worth estimated $1.008 billion and six MS-110 reconnaissance pods worth estimated $367.2 million.

In response to this announcement, China said it will sanction three American defense contractors, Lockheed Martin, Boeing Defense, Space & Security (BDS) and Raytheon. These companies were the prime contractors for the three sales.

On Oct. 26, a possible sale of up to 100 Harpoon Coastal Defense Systems (HCDS), consisting of up to 400 RGM-84L-4 Harpoon Block II Surface Launched Missiles and four RTM-84L-4 Harpoon Block II Exercise Missiles, to Taiwan was approved by the State Department for an estimated cost of $2.37 billion.

Boeing is also the prime contractor for Harpoon missiles.

MQ-9B SeaGuardian

MQ-9B SeaGuardian is a variant of MQ-9B SkyGuardian Remotely Piloted Aircraft System (RPAS) configured for maritime intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) mission. The drones are developed by American company General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. (GA‑ASI).

The SeaGuardian RPAS features a multi-mode maritime surface-search radar with Inverse Synthetic Aperture Radar (ISAR) imaging mode, an Automatic Identification System (AIS) receiver, a High-Definition – Full-Motion Video (HD FMV) sensor equipped with optical and infrared cameras. This sensor suite, augmented by automatic track correlation and anomaly-detection algorithms, enables real-time detection and identification of surface vessels over thousands of square nautical miles.

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