Today an article in the Wall Street Journal informs us that five drone makers have been approved by the Pentagon for military sales. Among the approved companies are four U.S drone makers; Skydio Inc., Vantage Robotics, Altavian Inc., and Teal Drones. As expected the fifth one is French drone maker Parrot, that recently launched the ANAFI USA in a controversial marketing campaign.
Skydio, Parrot and other dronemakers approved by Pentagon for military sales
in 2018, the U.S. banned for the most part the purchase of commercial off-the-shelf drones until it could assess the security risks that these unmanned aircraft might pose to the military.
Today we learn that the five small dronemakers have been approved by the U.S. Department of Defense to sell their unmanned aircraft to the U.S. Military and other federal agencies.
Skydio Inc., Vantage Robotics, Altavian Inc., and Teal Drones are the four U.S. dronemakers that have been approved. The fifth one is French drone manufacturer Parrot, that recently launched the ANAFI USA in a controversial marketing campaign.
“We are putting these tools in the hands of our war fighters in very critical times, and we need to ensure that the technology in their hands is not only cutting edge but is also secure,” said Michael Kratsios, the president’s top technology adviser who was also recently named the Pentagon’s acting undersecretary of defense for research and engineering, reports the WSJ.
Small unmanned aircraft have been used by the U.S. Military for decades and have tried to expand their fleet. For its 2019 budget, DoD officials requested almost $280 million to acquire small drones, which is a dramatic increase to the year before when the budget was $89 million, according to the Center for the Study of the Drone at Bard College in New York.In 2018, the Pentagon banned, for the most part, the acquisition of commercial off-the-shelf drones until it could assess the security risks that are involved in the use of such drones on surveillance missions of military installations and critical infrastructure. This ban was formalized by Congress in 2019 with a federal law that prohibits the purchase of Chinese-made drones for use by the Pentagon or other federal agencies.
According to Defense Department official Chris Bonzagni, the new drones that are supplied by the five approved dronemakers are more portable, easy to use and meant to launch in less than two minutes, helping U.S. soldiers get visual help in their environments, in comparison to the military’s existing drone inventory.
The Pentagon’s Defense Innovation Unit managed an $18 million project to identify drones that are ‘safe for government use.’ Some of the now approved companies have not worked with DoD in the past, Mr. Bonzagni said.
Government agencies and the U.S. military will be able to start buying drones from the approved companies through the federal government’s procurement website as of September. The unmanned aircraft are priced between $7,000 to $15,000.
Not surprisingly, DJI, the world’s largest dronemakers, is not among the five approved drone manufacturers. Eventhough DJI drones have been bought for government use in years past, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security is concerned about data security and believes that DJI was “selectively targeting government and privately owned entities…to expand its ability to collect and exploit sensitive U.S. data,” according to the WSJ. DJI has disputed that claim.
The availability of these new drones will have a “tremendous spillover effects that are going to benefit” to other federal agencies that are also looking to use smaller drones, said Mr. Kratsios, the Pentagon’s acting chief technology officer.
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