After the U.S. government banned Chinese-manufactured drones, including DJI, the world’s largest manufacturer, U.S. The Department of defense issues list of 5 trusted drone options for federal agencies.
The list of products, referred to as “Blue sUAS,” come from 5 different manufacturers: Skydio’s X2-D, Parrot’s Anafi USA, Altavian’s M440 Ion, Teal Drones’ Golden Eagle, and Vantage Robotics’ Vesper.
The Defense Innovation Unit (DIU) is a Department of Defense (DOD) organization “that accelerates commercial technology for national defense.”* DIU claims that today’s announcement is a follow-up of “five U.S.-manufactured drone configurations to provide trusted, secure small Unmanned Aircraft Systems (sUAS) options to the U.S. Government,”* to the unit’s Short Range Reconnaissance (SRR) program. As a result, this worked with manufacturers to provide inexpensive, portable, and deployable small drones for U.S. troops.
U.S. Government Approved Drones
The use of government funds to purchase drones manufactured in “listed countries” – especially, China – through 848 of the Defense Authorization Act of 2020, has been limited by lawmakers. This brought confusion in the market over what was allowed, as well as, what standards of security existed.
Developed in collaboration with the DoD, this list of government approved drones, is an effort to clarify that confusion. A DIU press release reported:
“Recognizing the demand signal across the federal government for trusted and secure sUAS, DIU took the lead in developing systems that are broadly applicable to an array of users and mission sets. Coined Blue sUAS, this spinoff effort builds upon the Army’s initial success and offers sUAS that mirror the air vehicle and software architecture of SRR, but provides alternative ground controller and radio configurations to accommodate a variety of users across the federal government.”*
Support of the U.S. Drone Industry
This list is an example of U.S. government efforts to support the private U.S. drone industry by recognizing drone manufacturing as an industry, which is critical to national security. The U.S. government also provided COVID-19 relief funding to some U.S. drone companies to show support during their development at a difficult time of the coronavirus crisis.
Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment, Ellen Lord, said:
“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.”*
Blue sUAS is a good alternative to Chinese-made small drones. Mike Brown, director of the Defense Innovation Unit, explains: “Working across DOD and the U.S. government aggregates, the business opportunity for these five vendors enhances the long-term viability of this capability for the U.S. and our allies.”*
A Shift for Drone Companies
Michael Kratsios, Acting Under Secretary of Defense for research and engineering, stated the following:
“. . . [this] ensures sustained delivery of highly-capable, secure UAS to the warfighters that depend on it. Blue sUAS showcases how we can both work with small, nontraditional companies and our allies and partners to quickly pilot cutting- edge technologies that support our mutual defense.”*
After working with the five companies for the past 18 months by helping them refine their airframes, discard potential Chinese components, perform cybersecurity penetration testing, and standardize on communication protocols and controls, (and after also certifying each one), the DIU believes these 5 drone options will be ready to fly for government work. “It’s one of the first times we as the federal government, have said that and really feel comfortable saying that,”* says Matthew Borowski, DIU project manager.
An additional benefit of this program is that the five companies will be on the GSA schedule, which means that government agencies will have the opportunity to buy them in bulk at a discount. In fact, the U.S. Army may be one of those bulk customers.
According to DIU project manager, Chris Bonzagni, the plan, at this time, is that one of these five drone options will be chosen to fulfill an order that every platoon in the Army may be fielding sometime within the next six months.
Even though many of the vendors on the list are already selling to the U.S. government, these 5 companies should have a significant advantage in the drone market. However, they are making major shifts to serve the military market. The drones will be made available on the GSA schedule, starting in September 2020, “to ensure ease of procurement and to ensure availability government-wide. DOD entities can also pursue a production contract via Other Transaction Authority, leveraging the scaling option of DIU’s Commercial Solution Opening,”* according to a press release.
DJI was never considered for this program and the present administration did not technically sign the National Defense Authorization Act that prohibited government purchases of “foreign-made unmanned aircraft systems” until last December. The word “foreign” used in this Authorization Act, explicitly means “China.” In fact, the DIU points out that the Chinese company never even tried to apply.
The list of 5 government approved drones, issued by The U.S. Department of Defense for Federal Agencies, has made it possible for manufacturers to provide inexpensive, portable, and deployable small drones for U.S. troops.