Will Taiwan Build Its Own Fearsome Killer Drones?

David Axe

Key point: Taipei is looking for new technologies and weapons to deter Beijing, and that includes drones. China already has its own attack drones, so Taiwan might as well get its own too.

Taiwan reportedly has solved a problem that has prevented the island country from developing its own medium-altitude attack drones.

In signing a deal with an Australian company to provide American-designed engines, Taipei has assembled all the basic components it needs to develop a killer drone in the class of the U.S. MQ-9.

Taiwan’s Chinese Academy of Sciences in April 2018 conducted the first test flight of the Teng Yun unmanned aerial vehicle.

A propeller-driven, medium-altitude UAV similar in dimension to the 36-feet-long MQ-9, the Teng Yun, in theory, could be a surveillance platform and an attack aircraft that’s capable of firing missiles and dropping bombs.

Such a drone could be invaluable to Taiwanese forces attempting to detect and repel attacking Chinese troops.

But the first version of the Teng Yun had a problem. To power the drone, Taiwanese engineers reverse-engineered and copied a Honeywell TPE331 turboprop engine that the government legally acquired on the commercial market.

The TPE331 clone however didn’t quite match the performance of the original engine, according to Up Media. A Teng Yun with the clone engine could function as a surveillance aircraft, but lacked the performance to carry ordnance.

So Taipei approached an Australian firm that under license produces original TPE331s. But the Australian company had a 600-day production backlog, meaning it could take two years to fill a Taiwanese order. Taipei request just two TPE331s on an emergency basis and shelled out $6.4 million for them.

The two engines were enough to fit two Teng Yun prototypes. The Chinese Academy of Sciences redesigned the drone’s wing and engine inlet to match the new motors’ superior performance. The new Teng Yun is capable of conducting both attack and surveillance.

Not Taipei must solve a bigger problem. If the Taiwanese military orders large numbers of Teng Yuns, it will need a lot more TPE331s.

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