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Nov. 5, 2020
Notes from the Pentagon

Strike drones sold to Taiwan

By Bill Gertz
The Trump administration is stepping up efforts to bolster Taiwan’s defenses, announcing this week that its latest arms sale package includes the first transfer of advanced Reaper drones capable of firing missiles. Four MQ-9 Reaper drones were approved for sale to Taiwan by the State Department in a package worth an estimated $600 million.

The Pentagon announced that the State Department had reviewed and approved the latest sale, describing the Reapers as “weapons-ready.”

The Reaper is one of the United States’ most effective hunter-killer unmanned aerial vehicles that can conduct long-endurance, high-altitude flight. The famed weapon has been used for attacks in the Middle East, including the targeted killings of terrorist leaders.

The drones can be armed with up to four AGM-114 Hellfire air-to-ground missiles or two 500-pound GBU-12 Paveway II laser-guided bombs. The Reaper also can fire the Joint Direct Attack Munition, or JDAM.

Future weapons in the package to Taiwan could include Stinger air-to-air missiles and anti-missile interceptors.

Taiwan will have no problem outfitting the drones with some of the 400 Hellfires purchased in 2005.

The approval was sent to Congress by the Defense Security Cooperation Agency on Tuesday.

“This sale will increase Taiwan’s self-defense capabilities,” said a senior administration official familiar with the transfer. “Taiwan is the first non-NATO+5 recipient of the MQ9 Reaper. It’s a good step forward.”

No missiles were included in the deal, which includes two ground stations and a targeting system along with maritime patrol radar and electronic surveillance systems.

The sale “serves U.S. national, economic and security interests by supporting the recipient’s continuing efforts to modernize its armed forces and to maintain a credible defensive capability,” the Pentagon said in a statement.

The drones will improve Taiwan’s ability to “meet current and future threats by providing timely Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR), target acquisition, and counter-land, counter-sea, and anti-submarine strike capabilities for its security and defense. The capability is a deterrent to regional threats and will strengthen [Taiwan‘s] self-defense.”

The drones are made by General Atomic Aeronautical Systems Inc. in San Diego.

The drone sale follows the announcement of other weapons sales to Taiwan valued at around $4.2 billion, including Harpoon anti-ship missiles and air-launched SLAM-ER extended-range cruise missiles.

“This is the tenth arms sales to Taiwan under President Trump and the third time in two weeks that the U.S. government has supplied our country with major defensive weapons that will enable Taiwan to be more capable and confident in defending peace in the Taiwan Strait,” Taipei’s foreign ministry said in a statement.

The latest arms sale followed angry denunciations by China and the imposition of sanctions by Beijing on three U.S. defense contractors for earlier arms sales to Taiwan.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a recent interview that stepped-up Chinese saber-rattling against rival Taiwan is being closely watched.

“The primary concern stems from the fact [that China] has demonstrated its incapacity to live up to its own commitments,” he said.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin denounced the Reaper sale and urged the U.S. government to cancel the sale.

“China will take legitimate and necessary reactions to firmly safeguard national sovereignty and security interests,” he said.

The Reaper sale is the first of its kind since the U.S. government shifted its policy on the 1987 Missile Technology Control Regime, which until July restricted exports of drones like the Reaper.

The drone sale provides Taiwan with a crucial targeting capability to support the recent sale of short-range missiles, SLAM-ER and Harpoon missiles, said Rick Fisher, a China expert with the International Assessment and Strategy Center.

“The MQ-9s are needed to help make sure the missiles find and reach their targets, be they People’s Liberation Army invasion ships or gathering invasion forces across the Taiwan Strait in Fujian Province,” he said.

China’s Communist Party is engaged in large-scale corrupt, coercive and covert actions programs that pose threats to American security and must be countered, David Stilwell, the assistant secretary of state for East Asia and Pacific affairs, said in a recent speech.

“The Chinese Communist Party challenges our free and open societies,” Mr. Stilwell told the Hoover Institution during an online webinar from Tokyo. “The prosperity, liberty and security of the American people and our friends around the world are at risk, and it hinges on how we meet this challenge.”

Mr. Stilwell, a retired Air Force brigadier general who once worked as an attache in China, said a major worldwide defense program to counter Beijing’s malign influence is a difficult but noble task.

The Chinese Communist Party is conducting operations that are “hostile to our basic political principles of democracy, openness and individual dignity,” he argued.

China, he added, is coopting both private-sector and government targets in its influence activities and therefore all institutions of society need to understand the Chinese strategy and take steps to counter the threats.

Chinese influence operations are fundamental to how the regime engaged the world in an adversarial fashion, he said.

“We might prefer to think of China as simply a trade partner or the home of great civilization, but the [Communist Party] today has taken an adversarial stance toward its neighbors,” Mr. Stilwell said. “Not just today. It’s been a long-term process. We’re recognizing it today.”

The Chinese objectives are opposed to stability, or respect for rule of law. Instead, Beijing’s strategy is aggressive and intrusive, Mr. Stilwell said.

China “not only rejects our democratic political principles, but it sees them as a prime vulnerability that it can exploit,” he said.

The key to countering Chinese operations and mitigating risks is to seek reciprocity in relations, something the Trump administration has sought to do.

“Reciprocity is basic in international relations. You’ve got to give to get,” Mr. Stilwell said.

Another tool is better coordination with allies. China’s narrative is that the battle is one between the U.S. and China, but the Trump administration has countered that by seeking support from nations of Asia and Europe.

“The world is increasingly aware of how the CCP is using its foreign engagements to influence, interfere and coerce,” Mr. Stilwell said. “The awareness is disturbing and even shocking for many people, because for decades the U.S. and other countries forged links with China based on the optimistic good-faith expectation that shared prosperity and trust would result from our diplomacy, our trade and our investment. It worked so many times in the past.”

Instead, China’s leaders chose to “weaponize” engagement, he argued. Instead of mutual benefits, Beijing’s activities are “systematically predatory and hegemonic,” he said.

“The CCP wants control, and at least it wants a veto in public discourse and political decisions globally, world over,” said Mr. Stilwell, noting that Chinese President Xi Jinping calls the activities a “magic weapon” of the ruling party.

Beijing has used its economic power to bully companies such as Marriott and Mercedes-Benz, he said, forcing the companies to parrot Chinese talking points or face state-backed boycotts.

The party also used disinformation about COVID-19, he noted. The activities are carried out by an additional 40,000 workers at a unit called the United Front Work Department.

Other units include the Foreign Ministry, the Central Propaganda Department, the Ministry of State Security, the Ministry of Education, the International Liaison Department, the Political Work Department, the Central Propaganda Bureau and the People’s Liberation Army.

U.S. officials say those entities are used to guide additional quasi-official front groups, such as Confucius Institutes.

“All told, we face a large and deliberately opaque amount of Chinese Communist Party officials, agents and cutouts seeking advantage in our societies,” Mr. Stilwell said.

China’s rulers want to set the rules for the entire world and view free and open societies as threats, he said.

“A future Pax Sinica fully realized would be aggressive. It would be contemptuous of human liberty, and domineering,” Mr. Stilwell said.

“Instead of a rules-based international order, peaceful resolution of disputes, respect for sovereignty and of law-abiding nations, a CCP-oriented world would require obedience to an unelected clique in Beijing, technological advances in surveillance and control, [and] risk casting the entire world into an age of tyranny,” he said.

  • Contact Bill Gertz on Twitter via @BillGertz.

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