The Secretary of the Interior has signed an order that effectively grounds drones used by the department’s personnel except aircraft used for emergency incidents. The official action signed January 29 by Secretary David Bernhardt confirms the grounding first reported by the Wall Street Journal in October, 2019. The order calls it a “…temporary cessation of non-emergency drones while we ensure that cybersecurity, technology and domestic production concerns are adequately addressed.”
In May of last year the Department of Homeland Security warned “about data security issues involving the use of Chinese-made drones, particularly those made by DJI. DHS said it was concerned about drones’ capacity to observe and transmit prohibited infrastructure surveillance and conduct cyberattacks,” CNET reported.
The DOI has approximately 800 drones, many of which have some components manufactured in China, and 121 were made by DJI, one of the largest drone companies in the world.
In a statement following the announcement by the DOI, drone manufacturer DJI said they were “extremely disappointed” in the DOI’s “politically-motivated” decision. The statement further said:
DJI makes some of the industry’s most safe, secure, and trusted drone platforms for commercial operators. The security of our products designed specifically for the DOI and other U.S. government agencies have been independently tested and validated by U.S. cybersecurity consultants, U.S. federal agencies including the Department of Interior and the Department of Homeland Security, which proves today’s decision has nothing to do with security.
And from NPR:
…DJI makes special “government edition” versions of two of its drones specifically for the Interior Department: the Matrice 600 Pro and Mavic Pro. Both models are listed as being in the U.S. agency’s drone fleet.
The Chinese company announced last summer that the Interior Department had independently validated its “high-security” drones during a 15-month testing period. The department seemed to agree, releasing a 53-page report in July recommending it use the special DJI drones.
The aircraft include firmware and software that is tailored to meet the agency’s requirements, DJI said.
But in Bernhardt’s order, he noted that the president had signed a memorandum in June stating, “I hereby determine … the domestic production capability for small unmanned aerial systems is essential to the national defense.
Presumably drone manufacturers in the United States will bend over backwards to ensure that their systems have no components made in China.
Joshua Resnick, the CEO of a new company, Parallel Flight Technologies, that is building a heavy-duty drone initially targeted for use on wildland fires, told us in November that their drones will be American made and will conform to security specifications required by the DOI and Department of Homeland Security.
Two bills before Congress would restrict the procurement of drones. H.R. 4753 would prevent the U.S. from purchasing any drones or unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) from a nation identified as a national security threat. That would include China and Iran.
S. 2502 would require that no Federal department or agency may operate a commercial off-the-shelf drone or covered UAS manufactured or assembled by a covered foreign entity.
Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Bean and Rick. Typos or errors, report them HERE.