US approves sale of SeaGuardian UAVs to Taiwan

SeaGuardian UAV -- GA-ASI
SeaGuardian UAV

The US State Department has approved the sale of four “weapons ready” MQ-9B SeaGuardian medium-altitude, long-endurance (MALE) unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to Taiwan, the US Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) announced on 3 November.

The proposed sale of the four SeaGuardian UAVs and associated equipment, made by General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc (GA-ASI), is expected to be worth as estimated US$600 million and will performed via the Foreign Military Sales (FMS) mechanism.

“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 defence,” the DSCA stated. “The capability is a deterrent to regional threats and will strengthen the recipient’s self-defense.”

Besides the four UAVs, Taiwan also requested two static and two mobile ground control stations (GCSs), Leonardo SAGE 750 electronic surveillance measures (ESM) systems, Raytheon SeaVue X-Band maritime radars, and L3Harris Wescam MX-20 electro-optic/infrared (EO/IR) sensors. The US government will also provide contractor engineering, technical, and logistics support services, as well as other related elements of logistical and programme support.

The transfer of the SeaGuardian UAVs, should the sale conclude successfully, would represent the first time the US government has exercised its discretionary powers under the recently revised Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) Export Policy to allow a Category I Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) to exported, when such deals had earlier been effectively banned under “strong presumption of denial” outlined by the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR). However, the UAVs that are expected to be sold to Taiwan will nevertheless be subjected to US scrutiny as Enhanced End Use Monitoring (EEUM) defence equipment.

Taiwan will also become the launch customer for the SeaGuardian platform.

However, the revelation also brings uncertainty for Taiwan’s effort to develop its own MALE-class ISR UAVs. The National Chung-Shan Institute of Science and Technology (NCSIST), has expended significant resources to develop the Teng Yun (Cloud Rider) UAV since the early 2010s, and unveiled an improved prototype called the MALE UAS development in August 2019. Whether Taiwan will cease development of these indigenous systems remains to be seen, although it will likely be less of a priority with the anticipated transfer of the SeaGuardians.

by Jr Ng