US government clips the wings of its civilian drone programme used to monitor endangered species and map landscapes over Chinese spying fears
The 1,000 strong drone fleet was temporarily grounded back in October 2019The ban now looks set to become permanent except in the event of emergencies Chinese firm DJI who built 121 of the drones claims there is no founding to fearsHowever US Army previous banned all DJI drone tech and tech back in 2017Homeland Security have said they are ‘moderately confident’ DJI is leaking data
The United States Government is to clip the wings of its civilian drone programme amidst continuing fears China could co-opt the tech to conduct espionage.
Part of the near 1,000-strong drone fleet — used for such diverse tasks as monitoring endangered species and mapping landscapes — was made by Chinese firm DJI.
The move — which will likely see the drones only fly in emergencies, such as to aid firefighting efforts — builds on the temporary ban that began in October 2019.
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The United States Government is to clip the wings of its civilian drone programme amidst continuing fears China could co-opt the tech to conduct espionage (stock image)
WHAT IS DJI?
DJI Sciences and Technologies Ltd is a Chinese tech firm based out of Shenzhen, Guangdong province.
The acronym DJI is short for ‘Dà-Jiāng Innovations’.
DJI has factories globally.
The firm is the world leader in the civilian drone industry, accounting for around 70 per cent of the total market.
DJI has been accused by the US Department of Homeland Security of transferring US data to Chinese authorities.
According to the Financial Times, the risk is simply too high that the Chinese government will use the drones to gather intelligence on the US.
While it would seem that a final policy has yet to be drawn up, US Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt is expected to limit the use of the drone fleet to tackling emergency situations — such as to aid firefighting efforts.
With the drones grounded, US authorities will need either to turn to American-made drones, abandon aspects of projects that relied on drone support or alternatively rely on the costlier and riskier application of crewed aircraft where suitable.
According to Engadget, Shenzhen-based DJI Sciences and Technologies Ltd — which built 121 of the drones in the civilian fleet — is eager to examine the US Government’s review of the drone programme.
There is, they have reportedly said, ‘a lack of credible evidence’ to support the grounding of the Chinese-made drones.
Staff at the US Department of the Interior are reportedly also disappointed by the plans to ground the drones, which are undertaking various beneficial tasks.
The Fish and Wildlife service have already had to cancel drone flights which would have assisted in the counting of animals and the monitoring of controlled forest burns, the Financial Times reported.
The US Geological Survey, meanwhile, has been putting drones to service in agricultural monitoring, earthquake preparation and flood response activities.
The Department of Homeland Security claimed in 2017 — with ‘moderate confidence’ — that DJI ‘is providing US critical infrastructure and law enforcement data to the Chinese government,’ Engadget reported at the time
The US’ mothballing of the civilian drone fleet would not be without precedent.
In 2017, for example, the US Army ceased all use of DJI drones and associated technology.
‘Due to increased awareness of cyber vulnerabilities associated with DJI products, it is directed that the US Army halt use of all DJI products,’ a memo leaked to sUAS news declared.
‘Cease all use, uninstall all DJI applications, remove all batteries/storage media from devices and secure equipment for follow on direction,’ the memo added.
The Department of Homeland Security also claimed — with ‘moderate confidence’ — that DJI ‘is providing US critical infrastructure and law enforcement data to the Chinese government,’ Engadget reported later that year.
There has, however, not been any public evidence showing that China has been obtaining data from such drones.
The MailOnline has reached out to the US Department of the Interior for comment.