Reuters reported that the sale of four MQ-9 SeaGuardian aerial drones to Taiwan has crossed a key hurdle in U.S. Congress and is at the last stage of approval, a deal likely to add to already strained ties with China. The $600 million deal would be the first such sale since U.S. policy on the export of sophisticated and closely guarded drone technology was loosened by the Trump administration. The U.S. State Department moving ahead with four other sales of sophisticated military equipment to Taiwan, with a total value of around $5 billion, as it ramps up pressure on China and concerns rise about Beijing’s intentions toward the island.
The sale of the four SeaGuardians, made by General Atomics, would include associated ground stations and training, adding that they would be outfitted with surveillance equipment. The drones that fly at speeds below 800 kilometers (500 miles) per hour are no longer subject to the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR). MQ-9B contains both hardware and software upgrades, such as improved structural fatigue and damage tolerance and more robust flight control software, as well as enhancements allowing operations in adverse weather including icing conditions. Additionally, the aircraft will be designed to survive bird and lightning strikes.
GA-ASI has developed a variant of the Predator® B Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA) series that meets NATO standards (STANAG-4671), and in cooperation with the FAA, will subsequently meet airworthiness certification standards domestically and around the world. It leverages both the Predator B RPA and Certifiable Ground Control Station (CGCS) as points-of-departure systems and identifies and incorporates the changes needed to achieve a “Type-Certifiable” system. The Royal Air Force was the very first to acquire the SkyGuardian, referred to as PROTECTOR by the British acquisition program, as a replacement for its Reaper fleet.
The maritime variant of General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. (GA-ASI) MQ-9B, SeaGuardian, can be configured with cross-domain capabilities for a vast range of maritime surveillance operations, including: Anti-Surface Warfare (ASuW), Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW), HA/DR – Humanitarian Assistance/Disaster Relief, Search and Rescue (SAR), Law Enforcement (Drug Trafficking, Illegal Immigration, Piracy), OMSI – Oceanic Maritime Security Initiative) and Airborne Counter Mine Capability (Developmental).