Taiwanese troops shot live rounds at a Chinese drone spotted intruding into the airspace of Kinmen County for the first time, the Kinmen Defense Command said.
Meanwhile, news emerged that the Taiwanese military has signed a half-a-billion-dollar contract to buy four SeaGuardian drones from the U.S. to improve surveillance capabilities in the waters surrounding the island.
According to a statement from the Kinmen Defense Command, four batches of Chinese civilian drones were detected flying over Dadan island, Erdan island, and Shi islet in Kinmen on Tuesday afternoon.
Soldiers stationed in the area fired warning flares at the drones and most of them flew away in the direction of China’s Xiamen. One of the drones failed to heed the warnings and the Taiwanese troops fired live rounds at it at around 6 p.m. but did not shoot it down.
This is the first time live ammunition has been fired at a Chinese unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), or drone, spotted in a restricted area of Taiwan’s outlying islands.
President Tsai Ing-wen instructed the military to take “strong countermeasures” on Tuesday, in response to recent Chinese drone incursions.
“I have ordered the Ministry of National Defense to take necessary and strong countermeasures at appropriate times, to defend the security of the nation’s territorial airspace,” Tsai said during an inspection tour of Penghu, another outlying island.
Since mid-August, civilian drones have been spotted flying over Kinmen, 180 kilometers (112 miles) from Taiwan’s main island but less than 10 kilometers (6 miles) from China.
Video clips apparently showing Taiwanese soldiers looking startled and confused have been circulated on Chinese social media. The “embarrassing videos” led to the Taiwan military issuing a concrete procedure on how to deal with intruding drones.
Taiwan’s defense ministry said a national drone defense system would be set up by 2023 and priority would be given to outer islands.
Beijing regards Taiwan, a self-governing island located about 160 kilometers (100 miles) off the mainland, as part of China.
There are concerns that some outlying islands under Taipei’s control, including Kinmen, Penghu and Matsu, could be the first targets of China’s future attacks.
Local media meanwhile reported that a U.S. delegation has been invited to Taiwan to finalize a deal worth TWD $16.88 billion (U.S. $555 million) to sell modern unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to the Taiwanese military.
The procurement contract for four MQ-9B SeaGuardian UAVs, together with ground control station-related equipment and support systems, was signed on an unspecified date but the first UAV will be delivered in 2025.
The UAVs will be operated out of Hualien in eastern Taiwan, according to media reports.
MQ-9B SeaGuardian UAVs are state-of-the-art High Altitude UAVs manufactured by California-based General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc.
They are remotely piloted aircraft systems, “delivering persistent intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance” around the globe, according to the manufacturer.
SkyGuardian UAVs are designed to fly for up to 40 hours in all types of weather and are outfitted with Lynx Multi-Mode Radar, advanced electro-optical sensors and infrared cameras.
The Japanese Coast Guard (JCG) also announced it would deploy an MQ-9B SeaGuardian UAV this October to strengthen maritime surveillance.
The JCG plans to use the SeaGuardian to look out for foreign fishing vessels and suspicious ships in the Sea of Japan, among other areas. The drone will also be used for rescue operations, according to a statement issued in April.
Last week Taiwan’s government proposed U.S. $19 billion in defense spending for next year, a near 14% increase on this year’s budget to a record U.S. $19.41 billion.
It was reported in May that Taiwan’s defense ministry approved a U.S. $146 million budget to buy indigenous drone defense systems designed by the National Chung Shan Institute of Science & Technology.
The systems would be installed at 45 military bases across Taiwan, including on outlying islands, to disrupt and neutralize hostile drones.