US to sell surveillance drones to Philippines, South China Sea allies

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WASHINGTON – Trump’s administration has gone ahead with a surveillance drone sale to 4 US allies in the South China Sea region as acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan stated Washington will no longer “tiptoe” around Chinese behavior in Asia.

Shanahan did not directly name China when making accusations of “actors” destabilizing the region in a speech at the annual Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore on Saturday but went on to say the United States would not ignore Chinese behavior.

Said drones would afford greater intelligence gathering capabilities potentially reducing Chinese activity in the region.

The Pentagon proclaimed on Friday it would sell 34 ScanEagle drones, made by Boeing Co. to the governments of Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines and Vietnam for a total of $47 million.

China claims almost all of the strategic South China Sea and frequently lambastes the United States and its allies over naval operations near Chinese-occupied islands. Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam have competing claims.

The Pentagon stated Friday’s sales included spare and repair parts, support equipment, tools, training and technical services and work on the equipment was expected to be completed by March 2022.

There are as many as 12 unarmed drones and equipment would go to Malaysia for about $19 million. Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim-majority country would buy 8 drones, the Philippines 8, and Vietnam 6.

In 2018, US President Donald Trump’s administration rolled out a long-awaited overhaul of US arms export policy aimed at expanding sales to allies, saying it would bolster the American defense industry and create jobs at home.

Such initiative relieved rules for exporting some types of lethal as well as non-lethal US-made drones to potentially dozens more allies and partners.

As there is no armed version of the ScanEagle, but Insitu, the division of Boeing that makes the drone, also makes the RQ-21A Blackjack which is an optionally armed drone used by US Navy and Marine Corps.

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