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Pentagon Releases List of 5 Government Approved Drones, Culmination of 18 Months of Research and Testing

BY Zacc Dukowitz
27 August 2020

The Department of Defense (DOD) recently released a list of five drones that have been approved for use at federal agencies.

The list was created by the Department of Defense’s Defense Innovation Unit (DIU), which has been testing the drones over the last 18 months.

Here are the drones approved by the DIU:

Introducing Skydio X2™

Skydio’s X2

The timing of the DIU’s announcement comes as the passage of the American Security Drone Act (ASDA) approaches and public debate continues around DJI and security concerns.

But the DIU started testing way back in November of 2018, well before concerns about the security of Chinese drones had entered the public domain (but, we should note, some time after the U.S. Army banned DJI drones—that happened in August of 2017).

Over the last few years, the U.S. Army, the Pentagon, and the Department of the Interior have all banned the use of Chinese drones or drones that use Chinese components. These bans have had significant impacts on the ability of these different entities to use drones in their operations, and effectively grounded the Interior’s entire drone fleet.

In addition to these agency-wide bans, the Defense Authorization Act (DAA) of 2020 limited the use of government funds to buy drones from select foreign countries, including China.

vantage-robotis-vesper
Vantage Robotic’s Vesper

But the DAA didn’t expressly describe what kinds of drones could be trusted, and this lack of clarity coupled with the piecemeal federal bans have served to create uncertainty at all levels of government about what is allowed.

This confusion has even trickled down to public safety agencies, where concerns have arisen about whether they might have their DJI drones taken away or whether they should weigh these kinds of bans when making purchasing decisions.

[Note: These concerns are unfounded. To the best of our knowledge, there are no drone bans currently in place for state and local agencies regarding country-of-origin concerns, and the ASDA only includes limitations on what federal agencies can do regarding drones—it says nothing about state or local agencies.]

Blue sUAS and the Future of Government Drones

Amid all this confusion, the release of these five approved drones—commonly referred to as Blue sUAS by the DIU—is a welcome step toward clarity, offering government agencies clear options for drones that meet the strict security guidelines of the DOD.

Parrot ANAFI USA - Launch Video

Parrot’s ANAFI USA

The DOD worked closely with each of these drone companies to help them meet their requirements, providing input on things like which components to remove due to potential security concerns, or adjustments that might be needed to their airframes.

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.

– Michael Kratsios, Acting Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering

The end result of all this collaboration are five drones that the DOD feels comfortable backing as reliable and trustworthy for government work.

altavian-m440-ion
Altavian’s M440 Ion

Due to their unique status, all five of these drones will most likely be available for bulk orders by government agencies at discounted rates. This could mean that the Department of Interior may be ramping its drone fleet back up in the coming weeks, and similar developments for other agencies whose drone programs have languished in the midst of the recent drone ban uncertainty.

Encouraging Domestic Drone Production

It’s not surprising that four of the five drone companies that made the Blue sUAS list are based in the U.S.

As the passage of the ASDA nears, U.S. defense programs have invested in the U.S. drone supply chain. Although the inclusion of France-based Parrot does signal that the government is open to foreign drones, the strong focus is on bringing drone production into the U.S., especially when it comes to governmental use.

And programs to bolster the U.S. drone supply chain do seem to be making real progress in ramping up domestic drone production.

Two of the drone companies that made the DOD’s list, Teal Drones and Vantage Robotics, use FLIR’s Hadron dual sensor camera module. The Hadron was created with support from the U.S. Army, through the DIUx SRR program (Defense Innovation Unit and SRR stands for Short Range Reconnaissance), a U.S. defense program that encouraged U.S.-based companies to create off-the-shelf drone solutions that could be used by the Army or by private companies.

teal-drones-golden-eagle-hadron
Teal Drones’ Golden Eagle

The DIU’s release of these five approved drones is a direct follow-up effort to the SRR program. Each of the five companies whose drones have been approved by the DIU reportedly received millions of dollars for R&D, which certainly helped them to develop these drones.

We first reported on programs like these in our in-depth look at the U.S. drone supply chain. Since then we’ve heard of a few instances where U.S. drone companies were supported by one of these programs, and we’re sure to hear about many more over the next few years.

Excited to hear about the DOD’s list of approved drones? Share your thoughts in this thread on the UAV Coach community forum.

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