Consumer Drones Face Two New Military Policies

A couple reports regarding the U.S. military and consumer unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) have been floating around the past few days: While the Army reportedly has ordered its units to stop using DJI drones, the Pentagon reportedly has given military bases the authority to shoot down consumer drones.

In an Aug. 2 memo, which was first released by sUAS News, Lt. General Joseph Anderson – the deputy chief of staff of the U.S. Army Air Directorate – citing “increased awareness of cyber vulnerabilities associated with DJI products,” directed the U.S. Army to “halt use of all DJI products.” This includes even uninstalling DJI apps and taking out batteries and storage devices from the drones. According to the memo, DJI’s drones are “widely used” in the Army for a “variety of mission sets.”

The memo specifically cites an Army Research Laboratory report entitled “DJI UAS Technology Threat and User Vulnerabilities” and a Navy memorandum entitled “Operational Risks with Regards to DJI Family of Products,” both released in May of this year.

An Ars Technica report notes that the memo may be based on DJI’s gathering of information “that could include geographic location of flights, audio and video.” In a statement to Ars Technica, Michael Oldenburg, who serves as DJI’s senior communication manager in North America, said the company is “surprised and disappointed” in the “unprompted restriction” on its products. He said DJI is reaching out to the Army in order to “understand what is specifically meant by ‘cyber vulnerabilities.’” Importantly, he noted that everyone should “refrain from undue speculation.”

Notably, a report from The Verge says a federally conducted report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has already demonstrated that DJI’s S-1000 drone showed “no evidence whatsoever of any attempt by any software to transfer any data from the aircraft” during an October study to “better understand if any data collected by the aircraft would be transmitted to the Internet during flight or during the subsequent transfer of the data to computers for post-processing.”

As for the notice from the Pentagon, a newly released report from the Navy Times‘ Tara Copp says the Pentagon has green-lit a policy that would enable military bases to shoot down or seize consumer UAS “that are deemed a threat.” (Remember when that DJI quadcopter – which turned out to be an accident by someone who lost control of his drone – landed on the lawn of the White House in 2015?)

The report cites Navy Capt. Jeff Davis, a spokesperson for the Pentagon, as saying military bases “retain the right of self-defense when it comes to UAVs or drones operating over [them]” and that the new policy “does afford of the ability to take action to stop these threats, and that includes disabling, destroying and tracking.” He also said the type of action to be taken “will depend upon the specific circumstances.”

According to the report, the classified policy was established in coordination with the Federal Aviation Administration and was communicated with military bases last month. Now, “unclassified guidance” has been sent to military services on best practices for making “local communities” aware of the new policy.

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