A proposed maritime drone sale approved by the US on Tuesday would pave the way for Taiwan and the US to share intelligence during a conflict, a military expert said on Thursday.
The US announced plans to sell Taiwan four Weapons-Ready MQ-9B Remotely Piloted Aircraft and related equipment for an estimated cost of US$600 million.
This is the third US arms sale to Taiwan in the past two weeks and the 10th since US President Donald Trump took office in January 2017.
The deal would also be the first such sale since the Trump administration loosened export rules for the sale of military drones amid a trade dispute with China.
The latest sale is the most important arms deal Washington has authorized with Taipei in the past few years as part of its “Fortress Taiwan” plan to create a military counterbalance to Chinese forces, wrote Hsieh Pei-shiue (謝沛學), an assistant research fellow at the Institute for National Defense and Security Research, in an article on the military-affiliated think tank’s Web site.
In the past few years, China has built up its anti-access and area denial capabilities to prevent the US and allied military forces from operating freely in the airspace and waters near China, Hsieh said.
As a countermeasure, the US military has been fortifying partnerships in the first island chain, deploying missiles in Japan’s southwestern islands and other locations along the chain to prevent Chinese maritime expansion, Hsieh said.
This is why the US has approved a number of arms sale packages with long-range precision-strike capabilities, including the AGM-84H Standoff Land Attack Missile Expanded Response Missiles, High Mobility Artillery Rocket System rocket launchers, Army Tactical Missile System M57 Unitary Missiles and Harpoon Coastal Defense Systems, he wrote.
All of these missile systems, together with locally made Hsiung Feng II and III missiles, have a range greater than 250km, meaning that they can strike military sites in Chinese coastal provinces, he said.
They could also deter Chinese military vessels from entering waters off eastern Taiwan, he added.
The latest deal includes MX-20 Multi-Spectral Targeting Systems and spares, SeaVue Maritime Multi-Role Patrol Radars, and SAGE 750 Electronic Surveillance Measures Systems, C-Band Line-of-Sight Ground Data Terminals, personnel training and training equipment, making it an important piece in preventing Beijing’s maritime expansion, Hsieh wrote.
The drone is capable of linking with satellite communications shared among US allies, meaning that Taiwan and its US counterparts could instantly share battlefield intelligence, providing opportunities for the two sides to cooperate during a conflict, the article said.
For instance, should a cross-strait conflict break out, Washington could take advantage of anti-ship missile systems deployed along the first island chain to prevent Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) vessels from sailing into waters east of Taiwan to blockade the nation, Hsieh said.
MQ-9Bs are capable of long-term long-range surveillance, meaning that the drones could fly near Chinese vessels to provide critical intelligence for the US to target them, he added.
Should PLA forces cross the first island chain and attempt to blockade Taiwan, the drones could also help US bombers and aircraft target PLA ships to relieve pressure on Taiwanese military units engaging PLA forces, the article said.
Taiwanese armed forces should regularly move the drones from one base to another, ensuring that they use different surveillance routes each time to make their movements more unpredictable and harder for Chinese forces to detect, Hsieh said.
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