U.S. Approves MQ-9B SeaGuardians for Taiwan

 - November 4, 2020, 1:02 PM
The MQ-9B SeaGuradian is expected to give Taiwan persistent surveillance of naval activities in the Taiwan Straits. (Photo: General Atomics)

The U.S. State Department has given the green light to a potential sale of four General Atomics MQ-9B SeaGuardian remotely-piloted aircraft systems (RPASs) to Taiwan, the fifth major arms sales approved for the nation within two weeks. The package, worth $600 million, will also include two mobile ground control stations, MX-20 multi-spectral targeting systems, SeaVue multi-role maritime patrol radars, C-Band line-of-sight (LOS) ground data terminals, and GA-ASI Ku-Band satcom transportable earth stations. 

With an endurance of 40 hours and operating altitude of 40,000 feet, the SeaGuardian is expected to be heavily utilized in monitoring potential Chinese naval activities in the Taiwan Strait, and also to provide enhanced target acquisition capabilities for the recently-approved air-launched AGM-84H Standoff Land Attack Missile Expanded Response (SLAM-ER) and land-based RGM-84L-4 Harpoon Block II anti-surface missiles. 

The new UAV is expected to complement the indigenously developed NCSIST Teng Yun (Cloud Rider) UAV, reportedly to be compatible with the AGM-114 Hellfire missile. Still in the flight test phase, the Teng Yun is relatively unproven and inferior to current systems in terms of endurance, range, and service ceiling.

The move is expected to again anger China. Beijing has already imposed sanctions on defense firms related to the recent arms deals, such as Boeing Defense, Raytheon, and Collins Aerospace. It is likely that General Atomics will join the list although, as with the above companies, it will have little impact on future dealings in mainland China due to the virtually non-existent activities there. 

The SeaGuardian RPA is also undertaking a demonstration of its wide-area maritime surveillance capabilities in Japan, where it began a series of flights in mid-October from Hachinohe air base in Aomori Prefecture in northern Honshu. The validation flights are for the Japan Coast Guard and are being conducted in partnership with Asia Air Survey. They follow on from maritime surveillance demonstrations performed with the earlier MQ-9A in the Korea Strait in 2018 and the Aegean Sea in 2019.