US to sell RM80 million spy drones to Malaysia as tension mounts over China

Malaysia will get 12 ScanEagle drones from the US. (Reuters pic)

PETALING JAYA: Malaysia is buying 12 surveillance drones worth US$19 million (RM79.5 million) from the US, in a move seen as part of President Donald Trump’s efforts to boost its allies’ intelligence-gathering capabilities amid the escalating tension with China.

Reuters reported that the sale is part of a US$47 million deal to sell 34 ScanEagle drones made by Boeing Co to the governments of Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines and Vietnam.

The ScanEagle is an unarmed drone manufactured by Boeing’s Insitu, which also makes the RQ-21A Blackjack, the armed drone used by the US Navy and Marine Corps.

Quoting Pentagon, the report said the sale announced last week included spare and repair parts, support equipment, tools, training and technical services. Work on the equipment is expected to be completed by March 2022.

The announcement of the deal last Friday came a day before US Defence Secretary Patrick Shanahan told a regional defence summit in Singapore that Washington would no longer “tiptoe” around Chinese behaviour in Asia.

Shanahan also spoke about “actors” destabilising the South China Sea, which Beijing claims as its territory.

In response, China’s Defence Minister Wei Fenghe warned Washington not to meddle in security disputes over Taiwan and the South China Sea.

“If anyone dares to split Taiwan from China, the Chinese military has no choice but to fight at all costs… The US is indivisible, and so is China. China must be, and will be, reunified,” he told the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore on Sunday.