U.S. Army Members Must Ground Chinese-made Drones

An Aug. 2 memo posted online by the U.S. Army orders its service members to stop using drones made by Chinese manufacturer SZ DJI Technology Co. Ltd. The order requires service members to “cease all use, uninstall all DJI applications, remove all batteries/storage media and secure equipment for follow-on direction.” The memo from Lt. Gen. Joseph H. Anderson cites “increased awareness of cyber vulnerabilities associated with DJI products.”

The order applies to all DJI drones and systems that use DJI components or software. According to the memo, DJI drones are the most widely used by the Army among off-the-shelf drone equipment. The Chinese-made drones may have been used by U.S. service members in Syria, as well as in other areas of the military including the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. DJI-made drones have also been used on occasion by the U.S. Air Force, including last year in Nevada at a national security site during a research challenge.

China-based DJI is currently the world’s biggest drone maker. In 2016, DJI was estimated to have about 70 percent share of the global commercial and consumer drone market. That market is estimated to be worth more than $100 billion over the next five years.

Studies conducted by the Army Research Laboratory and the Navy found that there were risks and vulnerabilities in DJI products. The classified Army Research Laboratory report and a Navy memo titled “Operational Risks with Regards to DJI Family of Products”, both from May, were cited as references for the order. The Army is considering issuing a statement about the policy, according to Army spokesman Dov Schwartz.

In a statement, DJI said that it was “surprised and disappointed” at the Army’s decision.
The company said that it was not consulted about the decision. Adam Lisberg, a New York-based spokesman for DJI Technology, said, “We’ll be reaching out to the U.S. Army to confirm the memo and to understand what is specifically meant by ‘cyber vulnerabilities.’ Until then, we ask everyone to refrain from undue speculation.” The company also said that it was willing to work with the Pentagon to address concerns.

In recent months, there have been more than 200 cases where military facilities imposed temporary flight restrictions (TFRs) on drones. Last month, Air Force General Mike Holmes of the Air Combat Command at Langley AFB in Virginia revealed that quadcopters had penetrated controlled air space at unidentified air bases and has requested authority to down unpiloted aircraft.

This is not the first time DJI products have been grounded by U.S. government agencies over security concerns. The Department of Interior elected to purchase products built by California-based 3D Robotics because of security concerns about DJI. Both NASA and the Department of Energy have also stopped using DJI products.

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