Coast guard to begin operating drone fleet next year

By Lo Tien-pin and Jonathan Chin  /  Staff reporter, with staff writer

Tue, Dec 12, 2017 - Page 1

The Coast Guard Administration is to start operating a fleet of uncrewed aerial vehicles (UAVs) for maritime law enforcement in the disputed South China Sea before the end of next year, a senior defense official said on Sunday on condition of anonymity.

The Executive Yuan has cleared the coast guard to open a bid to acquire 20 rotary-wing UAVs over the next two years.

Eight drones are to be procured by the end of next year with four slated for deployment in the South China Sea on board patrol ships belonging to the Southern Flotilla Sector, Mobile Patrol Directorate.

The UAVs are to carry out patrol and surveillance duties over the seas near Pratas Island (Dongsha Island, 東沙島) and the Spratly Islands (南沙群島) as part of “Operation Blue Sea,” the official said.

The remaining four drones are to be deployed with the coast guard unit in Keelung to head off unauthorized fishing operations by foreign boats, the official said.

The coast guard is to procure a separate batch of 12 UAVs in 2019 for its units in Taichung, Kaohsiung, Hualien, Taitung and the Northern Flotilla Sector, they said.

Shoring up the nation’s defenses in the South China Sea was among the first orders President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) issued when she assumed office last year.

In response, the Ministry of National Defense made a list of recommendations to the coast guard, including acquiring 155-mm howitzers for Itu Aba (Taiping Island, 太平島) and Juiyuan (銳鳶).

The coast guard agreed to obtain the howitzers — which it is holding in mobile reserve — but rejected the Juiyuan drones on the grounds that the fixed-wing design does not suit its needs.

Earlier this year, the coast guard asked the Executive Yuan for permission to buy rotary-wing drones, which the Executive Yuan has granted, the official said.

Rotary-wing drones are capable of vertical takeoff and landing for ship-based operations, and can stay in the air for extended periods, making them suitable for the coast guard’s operational needs, the official said.

The coast guard is to favor domestic manufacturers for the drones, which supports the government’s plans for the indigenous production of military aircraft, the official said.

The Executive Yuan’s approval for the procurement of drones is conducted on a trial basis and the coast guard could change its allocation in response to changing mission requirements, the official said.