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US approves sale of hundreds of loitering munitions to Taiwan

The United States Department of State has greenlit a potential arms sale of hundreds of loitering munitions to Taiwan, aimed at bolstering the island’s defense capabilities against regional threats.  

The approval was announced by the US Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) on June 18, 2024. The potential transfer includes 291 Altius 600M-V unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) loitering munitions and 720 Switchblade 300 attack drones, with a combined value of $360.2 million.  

The Altius 600M-V is a loitering munition developed by Anduril Industries. It is designed for extended endurance and precision strike capabilities, making it effective in surveillance and attacking stationary and moving targets. 

The Switchblade 300, produced by AeroVironment, is a tube-launched, expendable loitering munition. Compact, it is designed for rapid deployment and can be used for reconnaissance as well as precision strike missions against enemy personnel and light-armored targets. 

According to the DSCA, this sale, specifically requested by Taiwanese authorities, is intended to “help improve the security of the recipient and assist in maintaining political stability, military balance, and economic progress in the region.”  

The Taiwan Presidency welcomed the announcement in a statement and thanked the US government for “continuing to strengthen the Taiwan-U.S. partnership and jointly safeguarding regional peace and stability,” Taiwan Presidency spokesperson Karen Kuo said. 

China strongly condemned the sales to Taiwan and urged the Biden administration to “revoke its erroneous decision,” according to a Chinese Ministry of Defense spokesperson speaking to China’s Xinhua state news agency. 

Countering China’s military mass with expendable drones 

Deployed in substantial quantities, these expandable systems would enable Taiwan to deter a Chinese invasion by saturating advancing forces and damaging or destroying costly equipment such as landing craft, warships, and ground-based launch systems. 

In November 2020, during the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh, Azerbaijan prominently utilized Israel-manufactured loitering munitions, effectively destroying 59 Armenian vehicles, including trucks, artillery units, and tanks.  

The subsequent invasion of Ukraine by Russia confirmed the essential role of attritable systems in modern warfare. One-way attack drones proved effective in countering Russian military advances, while compact systems at the infantry level demonstrated their operational effectiveness, providing real-time reconnaissance and extending soldiers’ operational reach. 

The United States has included Altius and Switchblade drones in several of its aid packages for Kyiv. 

In August 2023, the US Department of Defense introduced the Replicator initiative to counter China’s “mass” and military expansion in the Indo-Pacific by using expendable drones. 

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