The Defense Innovation Unit is starting a government acquisition program for federal agencies to purchase small but secure Unmanned Aerial Systems (sUAS). The reason for this is because the government fears that Chinese-made drones pose cybersecurity risks.
The program is called Blue sUAS, and it was announced in August and will be launched in September (2020), according to the General Services Administration’s Multiple Award Schedule. The rationale for such a launch is to give agencies an easy way to purchase drones that have been vetted and thereby ready to be used. The companies that have embraced this new program are Altavian, Parrot, Skydio, Teal and Vantage Robotics.
The 2020 National Defense Authorization Act banned the federal use of Chinese-made drones due to concerns that the products had the potential to be used for spying and/or weaken our cybersecurity while conducting government operations.
Ellen Lord, undersecretary for acquisition and sustainment in the DOD, stated:
“Blue sUAS is a great example of DOD acquisition reform by lowering the barrier to entry for non-traditional companies to rapidly iterate shoulder to shoulder with warfighters to deliver highly-capable sUAS tailored to mission needs.”*
This makes it possible for Federal agencies to buy drones through this program. Security challenges using Chinese-made products have made it difficult in the past for agencies from the Department of Homeland Security to the Department of the Interior, even though they all had an interest in drones. It will still be possible for components of the DOD to be able to also pursue production contracts through the Other Transaction Authority.
Mike Brown, director of the DIU, explained:
“We need an alternative to Chinese-made small drones and Blue sUAS is a first step in achieving that objective. Working across DOD and the U.S. government aggregates the business opportunity for these five vendors and enhances the long- term viability of this capability for the U.S. and our allies.”*
It was drone companies that developed their products with open software architectures that built this program. Experts supporting DIU told FedScoop before they made the announcement that the purpose was so they can be utilized with various ground hardware configurations to control them. Because the domestic drone market is made of many different suppliers it is highly competitive, and Blue sUAS was designed to make it possible for agencies to purchase drones and its hardware that can be used in a common software system.
According to Michael Kratsios, acting undersecretary of defense for research and engineering:
“Blue sUAS represents a tremendous first step toward building a robust and trusted UAS domestic industrial base that ensures sustained delivery of highly-capable, secure UAS to the warfighters that depend on it.”*
Other initiatives have also been launched by the DOD besides creating a pool of verified drone manufacturers for the government. One example would be the launching of the Trust Capital Market, to make sure the money which funded new companies in the national security market, came from reliable sources. One of the initial pilot programs focused on drone companies. The marketplace is a public-private partnership between investors and companies. This makes it possible to do work with DOD in order to avoid investment that causes disunity or money from foreign nations that attempt to disrupt the supply chain of DOD.
Starting a government acquisition program for federal agencies to purchase small but secure Unmanned Aerial Systems (sUAS) is another encouraging move forward in the increasing use of drones. It also protects us from the possibility of Chinese-made drones posing cybersecurity risks.