The United States could sell at least four sophisticated aerial drones to Taiwan, reports have said. According to six U.S. sources familiar with the negotiations, the negotiations for the potential sale is going on, Reuters reported.

The US State Department has tacitly authorized the sale of the unmanned aerial vehicles, two sources told the agency. However, another source said it is not known whether the U.S. officials have approved exporting the drones with weapons attached.

The SeaGuardian surveillance drones have a range of 6,000 nautical miles (11,100 km), far greater than the 160-mile range of Taiwan's current fleet of drones, potentially giving the island greater capacity to peer into China, observing its air force, missiles and other facilities.

Congress Should Approve Deal

Taipei scrambles jets as Chinese aircraft carrier Liaoning enters Taiwan Strait
J-15 fighters from China's Liaoning aircraft carrier conduct a drill in an area of South China Sea, January 2, 2017. Picture taken January 2, 2017. REUTERS/Mo Xiaoliang

The deal must be approved by members of Congress, who may receive formal notification as soon as next month, two of the people told the agency. Congress could block a final agreement, it added.

The news comes amid heightened tensions between the US and China. The drone, deal, if it goes ahead, is certain to anger China, which claims Taiwan as its own territory. Republican and Democratic U.S. senators introduced legislation on Thursday that would block the export, transfer or trade of many advanced drones to countries that are not close U.S. allies. Sales would be allowed to NATO members, Australia, New Zealand, South Korea, Japan and Israel.

Taiwan Did Not Comment

A deal with Taiwan would be the first drone sale after President Donald Trump's administration moved ahead with its plan to sell more drones to more countries by reinterpreting an international arms control agreement called the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR).

Taiwan's Defense Ministry declined to comment.

Predator Drone
An MQ-1 Predator drone on a combat mission over southern Afghanistan. Wikimedia Commons

While Taiwan's military is well-trained and well-equipped with mostly U.S.-made hardware, China has a huge numerical advantage and is adding advanced equipment of its own, including stealthy fighters, anti-satellite missiles and aircraft carriers.

Taiwan submitted its request to buy armed drones early this year, one of the people familiar with the talks said. The United States last week sent Taiwan the pricing and availability data for the deal, a key step that denotes official approval to advance the sale. It is, however, non-binding and could be reversed.

A deal for the four drones, ground stations, spares, training and support could be worth around $600 million using previous sales as a guide. There could also be options for additional units in the future, one of the people said.

The island is bolstering its defenses in the face of what it sees as increasingly threatening moves by Beijing, such as regular Chinese air force and naval exercises near Taiwan

Taiwan unveiled its largest defense spending increase in more than a decade last year. President Tsai Ing-wen has made defense modernization a priority, including building new submarines and upgrading Taiwan's F-16 fighter fleet.

Relations between Beijing and Washington - already at their lowest point in decades over accusations of spying, a trade war, the coronavirus and Hong Kong - could fray more if the deal gets the final go-ahead from U.S. officials. The Pentagon has said arms sales to Taiwan will continue, and the Trump administration has kept a steady pace of Navy warships passing through the Taiwan Strait.

China has never renounced the use of force to bring the democratic island under its control. Beijing has denounced the Trump administration's increased support for Taiwan.

(With Reuters Inputs)

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