Taiwan to Receive MQ-9B ‘SkyGuardian’ Reaper Variant in a $600m Package including aftermarket services

The United States Defence Security Cooperation Agency today approved Taipei’s request to purchase four MQ-9B ‘SkyGuardian’ UAV systems. The Defence Security Cooperation Agency, charged with providing military materials to US allies will now seek to complete this request. The request extends beyond the pure equipment provision of four MQ-9B’s and onto after market services. The after market services in question being repair services, spare part provision and the supply of continued training plans and associated educational materials. The Taiwanese government has, in addition to after market services and the original equipment, requested two mobile ground control stations and two fixed ground control stations. Taipei’s request extends to the fitting of a bespoke list of internal systems. The internal avionics systems requested are L3Harris’s Wescam MX-20D multi-spectral targeting system, Leonardo’s SAGE 750 electronic surveillance measure suite and Raytheon Technologies’ SeaVue Surveillance XMC multi-function radar. The requested UAVs will also include BAE Systems’ AN/DPX-7 IFF transponder unit to allow safe operation in busy battlespaces. The Taiwanese military is expected to equip the platforms with their pre-existing supply of AGM-114 Hellfire missiles in variants K, L and C.

The MQ-9 Reaper by General Atomics’ subsidiary General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc., is the base system upon which the MQ-9B is built. The MQ-9 system has a maximum speed of 300 mph with a cruising speed of 170 – 200mph. The propulsion is provided by a TPE-331-10GD Turbo prop engine which powers the UAV’s propeller to push it through the air. The MQ-9 chassis has a maximum carry weight of 1,700kg and a altitude ceiling of 50,000 feet. The SkyGuardian model increases the wingspan from 20m to 24m, the endurance of the system has also been improved to 40 hours over the MQ-9A’s 30 hours. The common body shared between the SkyGuardian and MQ-9A Reaper is capable of taking the 500-lb PAVEWAY laser guided munition in addition to the Hellfire AGM-114 anti-tank missile family. The MQ-9 Reaper base system requires an operating crew of a pilot, sensor operator and mission intelligence coordinator. The MQ-9B requires the same manpower commitment. The platform is optimized towards providing a highly mobile missile platform for use against armoured targets and fortified defensive positions.

Taiwan currently possesses a stockpile of AGM-114 Hellfire missiles of the C, L and K variants. The existing stockpile will likely be used as Taiwan’s weapon for their MQ-9B SkyGuardians. AGM-114 missile family members all operate in a 8,000m range and carry HEAT shaped charges. The AGM-114C has an 8kg charge while the AGM-114L & AGM-114K use 9kg tandem shaped HEAT charges. The K and C variants use semi-active laser homing through an emitter on the tip of the missile, the L variant on the other hand uses radar homing. The result is a fire-and-forget weapon allowing the user to unload the payload and quickly remove themselves from the area before the enemy can respond. The rapid hit and run operation of the system granted by the hellfire missile series have been proven to be devastatingly effective in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The missiles when used in tandem with the MQ-9B/A allow superb long range low-risk capabilities enabling high accuracy termination of theatre threats.

The agreement between the US and Taiwan to provide MQ-9B ‘SkyGuardians’ is good news for the system’s producer, General Atomics. The nature of the Taiwan deal will see General Atomics joined by Lockheed Martin, Leonardos, Raytheon Technologies, producing the internal components of the requested MQ-9 configuration. The request for the MQ-9B based equipment package from Taiwan is as a result of growing insecurity among Taiwanese authorities in regards to Chinese aerial incursions. The recent increase in the violation of Taiwanese air space has seen nearly daily flights from mainland China. The flights are typically carried out by Y-9 and Y-8 Shaanxi aircraft usually outfitted in either electronic warfare or anti-submarine warfare configurations. The conclusion to be drawn is that the fly overs are a display of strength designed to unsettle the Taiwanese defence establishment. The requirement to intercept said craft is taking its toll on Taiwanese pilots physically and mentally as China show’s off its inexhaustible Chinese aviation capabilities. The MQ-9B platform will allow the Taiwanese air-force to share the existing operational load between automated and manned units, reducing the overall human toll on Taiwan’s air force.