Taiwan’s Reaper Look-Alike Drone, Tengyun II, Concludes Testing, Inches Towards Mass Production

Taiwan Reaper
The Tengyun II UAV at an exhibition. (Image credit: X)

The Tengyun II could work in tandem with the four American SeaGuardian UAVs scheduled to be delivered in 2026 and 2027.

Taiwan’s own Reaper-like surveillance-strike drone, the Tengyun II, has “completed combat reevaluations,” according to reports from the island. The all-weather, day and night capable U.A.V. (Unmanned Air Vehicle) is an improved version of the Tengyun I and is capable of flying for 20 hours, which is “double the range of the original prototype.”

The MALE (Medium-Altitude Long-Endurance)-class drone is designed to monitor the Taiwan Strait for a “nearly full day,” and is a product of the NCSIST (National Chung Shan Institute of Science and Technology). A Dec. 25, 2023 report on TaiwanPlus said the Tengyun II has been built for surveillance and strike missions, and at the time “broke a new flight record” with the 20-hour endurance.

In March 2024, the Tengyun II underwent operational evaluation and testing, which was concluded in May. “Performance will continue to be improved for potential mass production needs,” according to Liberty Times. It is reported the drone shares its power system with the U.S.-made MQ-9B UAV.

Capabilities and features

The drone also largely resembles the American MQ-9 Reaper. It is said to have a range of 1,000 kilometers and a service ceiling of 25,000 feet, and features more advanced electronic surveillance and interference systems than the Tengyun 1 drone.

The drone is capable of autonomous landing and take-off, multi-aircraft control, networked guidance and control, multiple guidance control links, ground-networked guidance control functions, and real-time image transmission.

Whether the second and third features mean the drone’s operation can be handed over from one ground-control station to the other and possibly other control platforms aboard warships is not clear. But the framing suggests so, since it is conceivable both the U.S. and Taiwan would hope for a significant level of interoperability and parity between their systems.

The Tengyun II at an unidentified airfield in Taiwan in 2022. (Image credit: X).

Other reports said it is also capable of “electronic parameter reconnaissance” and “electronic interference.” It is certain, however, that the drone has all the elementary capabilities for a complete unmanned Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) platform.

How will the drone help?

The primary strategic orientation behind operationalizing the drone seems to be continuous surveillance. It has been assessed that an actual Chinese military move would be a sudden, fluid extension of its routine naval and air incursions around the island. Additional Tengyun II units, after the UAV reaches mass production, could rotationally take over aerial surveillance roles after their 20-hour endurance ends, allowing a permanent ‘eye in the sky’.

Chen Kuo-ming, a defense expert Taiwan Plus interviewed, placed the drone’s importance in the present scheme of things. “Taiwan doesn’t lack weaponry. We lack reconnaissance resources. We need drones to monitor the air and sea for long periods of time. We need two large drones like this on 24-hour patrols, one in the north and one in the south.” These patrols would primarily be meant to watch the movement of surface warships since the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) would be the lead arm of any attack on Taiwan.

Taiwan News went on to add that the Tengyun II could work in tandem with the four American SeaGuardian UAVs that Taiwan has bought in a $467 million deal. The first two are scheduled to be delivered in 2026 and the other two in 2027. These would conduct reconnaissance in the Western Pacific near the Miyako Islands, as well as around the Dongsha and Nansha Islands. This would enhance Taiwan’s early warning systems and improve the deployment of forces.

Identify patterns

Aerial surveillance assets around all sides of Taiwan continually on overwatch ease the identification of a Chinese military buildup, or a particular pattern of its maneuvers. As we mentioned, it has been assessed that an actual Chinese military move on Taiwan would be a fluid extension of its routine and provocative naval, aerial drills around the island. Beijing possibly plans to make a real invasion indistinguishable from such exercises to leave Taiwan – and by extension the U.S. – less time to react.

But the attacking force would be far larger, since China would need both its civilian, administrative and military might to take Taiwan by force in a whole-of-government approach. For instance, it has often been publicized that China might use its passenger RoRo (roll-on/roll-over) vessels to transport troops, armor and vehicles across the strait, on to the island’s western shores.

A build up of its passenger vessels, three carriers and the Type 075 and Type 076 LHDs (Landing Helicopter Docks) in its ports before sailing might suggest an invasion, standing out from its everyday exercises. But such patterns can only be observed by continuous aerial monitoring. Moreover, China tackling the UAV with even non-lethal means – jamming, E.W. – is an alarm bell that might diminish the element of surprise.

The only scenario which remains to be seen is whether Taiwan is able to capitalize on the early warning and thwart the opening Chinese attacking wave, as well as if the United States succeed in rushing to its aid on time to prevent the blockade from fully taking hold.

About Parth Satam
Parth Satam's career spans a decade and a half between two dailies and two defense publications. He believes war, as a human activity, has causes and results that go far beyond which missile and jet flies the fastest. He therefore loves analyzing military affairs at their intersection with foreign policy, economics, technology, society and history. The body of his work spans the entire breadth from defense aerospace, tactics, military doctrine and theory, personnel issues, West Asian, Eurasian affairs, the energy sector and Space.