US government department grounds its Chinese drones


The US Interior Department is grounding its fleet of 800 Chinese drones but will allow their use for emergency situations, the department said.

US Interior Secretary David Bernhardt issued an order affirming temporary cessation of non-emergency operations adopted in October as it ensures “cybersecurity, technology and domestic production concerns are adequately addressed,” the department said.

The order allows for approved situations for emergency purposes, such as fighting wildfires, search and rescue and dealing with natural disasters threatening life or property.” It also allows training operations.

Bernhardt in October ordered a halt to additional Interior department purchases of Chinese drones.

China’s SZ DJI Technology Co Ltd, the world’s largest maker of consumer drones, said in a statement it was “extremely disappointed” in the Interior order that “inappropriately treats a technology’s country of origin as a litmus test for performance, security and reliability.”

The company added the concerns have “little to do with security and are part of a politically-motivated agenda to reduce market competition and support domestically produced drone technology, regardless of its merits.”

In May 2019, the US Department of Homeland Security warned US firms of risks to company data from Chinese drones. In a notice DHS said officials have “strong concerns about any technology product taking American data into the territory of an authoritarian state that permits its intelligence services unfettered access to that data or otherwise abuses that access.”

Bernhardt’s order said the department will issue implementing guidance in 30 days.

The order noted Interior uses drones for “assessing, collecting, and maintaining information relating to our critical American energy, transportation and defence infrastructure.”

Information collected during drone operations “has the potential to be valuable to foreign entities, organisations and governments,” it added.

In June, President Donald Trump said “domestic production capability for small unmanned aerial systems is essential to national defence.”