Taiwan’s Drone Dilemma: Building a Defense Against Its Biggest Supplier

According to a recent report in The Wall Street Journal, Taiwan is ramping up efforts to create a drone army for its defense, but faces a unique challenge: most of the affordable drones proving effective in modern warfare are made by , the very nation it seeks to defend against.

Ukraine's Drone Tactics Inspire Taiwan

The conflict in has highlighted the strategic value of small, inexpensive drones in asymmetric warfare. Taiwan, facing a potential conflict with China, aims to adopt similar tactics. However, replicating Ukraine's approach is complicated by China's dominance in drone manufacturing.

The Scale of the Challenge

Taiwan's Defense Ministry has proposed spending about $175 million to acquire 3,200 drones over five years. However, this falls short of the estimated 10,000 drones Ukraine uses monthly, according to the Royal United Services Institute.

Eric Gomez, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute, reportedly emphasizes the importance of stockpiling:

“Ukraine has taught us how material intensive this type of conflict can be. If resupply is a challenge, or not a certainty, then large stockpiling and protection of those stockpiles is essential for Taiwan before a conflict starts.”

Navigating the Chinese Supply Chain

Unlike Ukraine, which initially relied on Chinese-made DJI drones, Taiwan must avoid Chinese components due to security risks. The island nation faces the challenge of building a large drone stockpile without access to the Chinese supply chain.

Technical Capability vs. Scale

Taiwan possesses the technical know-how to produce drones, but struggles with achieving the scale necessary for cost-effective production. Chen Kuan-lu, chairman of Thunder Tiger, highlights the difficulty in sourcing affordable gimbals outside of China, while Jonson Huang of Taiwan UAV faced challenges finding local suppliers for drone engines.

Huang shared his experience:

“I'm doing this as an act of virtue. Without the belief behind it, I would have given up a long time ago.”

The Push for a Domestic Drone Industry

Taiwan's government is actively promoting the development of a “national drone team.” Former President-elect Lai Ching-te expressed ambitions to make Taiwan the “Asian center for the democratic drone supply chain.”

International Support and Future Outlook

The U.S. has recognized Taiwan's need for drones, approving a $360 million arms package including about 1,000 unmanned aircraft. Additionally, Taiwan is investing in anti- to counter potential threats from Chinese drones.

David Ochmanek, a former Pentagon official and senior defense analyst at Rand, notes:

“As we've seen in Ukraine, drones can be a way for the weaker side to do damage to the forces of the stronger side.”

DroneXL's Take

The situation in Taiwan underscores the growing importance of drone technology in modern defense strategies. As drones continue to reshape warfare, like Taiwan face the dual challenge of rapidly developing domestic drone capabilities while navigating complex geopolitical supply chain issues. This scenario highlights the need for increased international cooperation among democratic nations in drone technology development and production. It also emphasizes the importance of diversifying global supply chains for critical defense technologies to reduce dependence on potentially adversarial sources.

Featured photo Teng Yun II UAV, courtesy of CNA.

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Haye Kesteloo
Haye Kesteloo

Haye Kesteloo is the Editor in Chief and Founder of DroneXL.co, where he covers all drone-related news, DJI rumors and writes drone reviews, and EVXL.co, for all news related to electric vehicles. He is also a co-host of the PiXL Drone Show on YouTube and other podcast platforms. Haye can be reached at haye @ dronexl.co or @hayekesteloo.

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