US Congress may move against Chinese-made drones

June 3, 2021  - By
The FLIR M440 UAV. (Photo: Teledyne FLIR)

The FLIR M440 UAV. (Photo: Teledyne FLIR)

A bill moving through the U.S. Congress would impose a five-year ban on United States government purchases of drones manufactured or assembled in China, reports The Associated Press. The measure reflects bipartisan concerns that the unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) made in China could facilitate Chinese spying on critical infrastructure.

Major commercial and consumer UAV-maker company DJI is based in Shenzhen, China. Many of its small, low-altitude drones are employed by local and regional government users in law enforcement, emergency response and surveying. The ban could affect police departments that rely on federal funds for equipment. In 2020, the Department of Homeland Security halted such grants for Chinese-made drones.

Chinese-made components, including GNSS receivers and inertial sensors, are not addressed in the bill, and the Pentagon has acknowledged that many components for non-Chinese-company drones are made in China.

While the ban wouldn’t go into effect until 2023, many federal agencies have already imposed temporary restrictions on the use of Chinese drones. The Interior Department had flown more than 11,000 drone missions before January, when the agency temporarily grounded its fleet of more than 500 DJI drones over cybersecurity concerns, according to The Hill. The Hill cites a May 6 Pentagon report. The report found no malicious code in the software for DJI’s Government Edition drones.

An analysis by Booz Allen Hamilton released in June 2020 found no evidence that DJI drones have shared sensitive information with the company or the Chinese Communist Party.

In August 2020, the Defense Department issued approval to drones from five companies:

  • Skydio’s X2-D. Skydio is based in Redwood City, California.
  • Parrot’s Anafi USA. While Parrot is based in Paris, France, the ANAFI USA drone is manufactured in the United States for U.S. customers.
  • Teledyne FLIR’s Flir M440 Ion. The drone was originally made by Altavian in Florida, which was acquired by FLIR in December 2020, which was subsequently acquired by Teledyne Technologies in January. Teledyne FLIR is headquartered in Wilsonville, Oregon.
  • Teal Drones’ Golden Eagle. Teal Drones is based in Salt Lake City, Utah.
  • Vantage Robotics’ Vesper. Vantage is based in San Leandro, California.

About the Author: Tracy Cozzens

Senior Editor Tracy Cozzens joined GPS World magazine in 2006. She also is editor of GPS World’s newsletters and the sister website Geospatial Solutions. She has worked in government, for non-profits, and in corporate communications, editing a variety of publications for audiences ranging from federal government contractors to teachers.