Easier than shooting target drones, since target drones (at least Chinese ones) can be supersonic, carry EW suits, or LOV or a combination of those.So having lost the element of surprise, how easy or difficult would it be to stop a MQ-9 attack?
But I am not sure if China permanently forward deploys SAMs on those islands now. I think they sent some across a while back to prove a point, but not sure if that was just a temporary deployment or if it’s longer term.
But using drones for the attack is a smart move as they are reasoning China will be loathed to fire the first shot, so those drones would be able to fire the first shot (and probably purposefully hit unmanned targets like storage tanks or radar arrays etc, like they did with Iran) that will cause some damage so Trump can say he dropped the hammer on China, while any drones shot down would be at the bottom of the SCS, so no damaging photos (at least to start with) of destroyed drones. Just images of burning buildings on Chinese islands to boost his wannabe strong man image.
Of course such a move will carry massive diplomatic and strategic costs for the US. For one thing, the USN can never carry out FoN missions again, as I think one of the outcomes of such an unprovoked attack would be that China would declare ADIZs over the entire SCS and expand existing ones to the entire Chinese seaboard, with a warning that any US military assets that enters the zones will be treated as hostile and shot down/sunk without warning.
But what would be a smarter move would be for the US to use drones to overfly Chinese SCS islands and force China to make the first offensive move. But I don’t think that is as flashy as Trump needs. He may start with overflights and escalate to strikes if China doesn’t bit and shoot first.