Taiwan is negotiating with the U.S. for the purchase of at least four high-end SeaGuardian military drones, sources told Reuters. This would be the first such purchase for Taiwan and one likely to escalate tensions with China.

For the deal to go through, it must eventually be approved by the U.S. Congress. Two of the sources close to the discussions say that the terms of the deal might be sent for approval as early as September. While the State Department has in the past authorized the sale of unarmed drones, it remains to be seen if the sale of armed ones will be allowed.

The Trump administration previously pledged to begin selling more drones to foreign countries under a new interpretation of the Missile Technology Control Regime international agreement.

Taiwan first requested the purchase earlier in the year, with recent talks focusing on pricing and availability. Based on data from other sales, Reuters estimates that the four drones in addition to “ground stations, spares, training, and support” would cost around $600 million.

Taiwan has recently been working to improve its military capabilities in the face of an increasingly threatening posture from China, which claims the island as a territory. China has recently been conducting air and naval drills closer to Taiwan, which has been viewed as a show of strength. The Chinese government has also denounced the U.S.’s increased support of Taiwan in recent years.

SeaGuardian drones have a range of 6,000 nautical miles, well above the technology currently being employed by Taiwan, around 160 miles. While Taiwan’s military is reasonably advanced and well-equipped with hardware furnished by the U.S., its capabilities are dwarfed by China’s sheer numbers.

The United States could sell more of its armed Predator drones like this one after a decision by the Trump administration to loosen export restrictions
Representation. AFP / TOBIAS SCHWARZ