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US Army bans Chinese drones over ‘operational risks & cyber vulnerabilities’

The Pentagon has ordered an Army-wide ban on all consumer drones made by Chinese manufacturer DJI, citing “cyber vulnerabilities associated with DJI products.”

The US Army has been ordered to “halt use of all DJI products,” according to an August 2 memo from Lieutenant General Joseph Anderson, the Army's Deputy Chief of Staff for Plans and Operations.

Additionally, the Army was ordered to “cease all use, uninstall all DJI applications, remove all batteries/storage media from devices, and secure equipment for follow on direction,” Anderson wrote in the memo.

Bad news for critical infrastructure inspection wit DJI gear https://t.co/blrqTFAu5rpic.twitter.com/P0YLeDJ2GI

— sUAS News (@sUASnews) August 4, 2017

The order applies to all DJI Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) as well as any products that use electrical components or software, including “flight computers, cameras, radios, batteries, speed controllers, GPS units, handheld control stations, or devices with DJI software applications installed.”

Drones to be registered in UK, users to take safety tests

The memo, which was obtained by Small UAS News, cites research from the US Army Research Lab, who found the technology contained “threat and user vulnerabilities,” and the US Navy, who found there were “operational risks” with the family of products. No specific information was provided on what those threats and risks were.

An Army spokesperson later confirmed the order with the Washington Times.

“We can confirm that guidance was issued; however, we are currently reviewing the guidance and cannot comment further at this time,” the spokesperson said.

In the past, the off-the-shelf DJI drones were the most widely used by the Army and the most popular consumer drones in the world, according to Drone Industry Insights.

The Army had issued over 300 Airworthiness Releases, authorizing the use of DJI products on aerial missions, according to the memo.

Drone will scan perimeter & help Secret Service determine drone monitoring's usefulness in protecting Trump https://t.co/BjJSu8nLyg

— RT America (@RT_America) August 2, 2017

Michael Perry, DJI’s Public Relations Manager, sent an email to Small UAS News, saying that they had not been informed about the decision.

“We are surprised and disappointed to read reports of the US Army’s unprompted restriction on DJI drones as we were not consulted during their decision,” Perry said. “We’ll be reaching out to the US Army to confirm the memo and to understand what is specifically meant by ‘cyber vulnerabilities.’”

The Army is considering issuing a statement about the policy change, Army spokesman Dov Schwartz told Reuters.

DJI is estimated to have secured around 70 percent of the global and consumer market for drones, according to Reuters. Analysts at Goldman Sachs estimate that the UAS market will be worth $100 billion by 2020. They added that the largest market for drones is and will continue to be the military.

Brett Velicovich, a former Army intelligence soldier who runs Expert Drones, told Defense One that the memo “could have a huge impact on DJI.”

“There are US special operators in Syria using DJI products,” Velicovich said. “So I get it. I’m glad [the Army is] finally doing something about this.”

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