US aims to ground Chinese-made drones on security concerns

House to vote on Bill this month after Senate passes law to bar such purchases for US military use

WASHINGTON • United States lawmakers are proposing to ban American military purchases of Chinese-made drones on grounds of national security, the Wall Street Journal reported yesterday.

The National Defence Authorisation Act passed by the Senate last week would bar Chinese drones for military use as American officials grow worried that the country's reliance on Chinese drones may be putting critical US infrastructure at risk, the newspaper reported.

The concern was that the drones may be sending information back to the Chinese government or hackers elsewhere to use for cyber attacks or other offences, it said.

The US House version of the Bill, expected to be voted on this month, would ban foreign-made drones, the report said.

"Chinese-made drones pose a huge national security risk," said Democrat Senator Chris Murphy, who pushed for the Senate provision. "We must do everything we can to reverse course, and put local manufacturing jobs and national security first."

The Pentagon last year banned purchases of commercial, off-the-shelf drones until it can determine how to mitigate security risks, including when drones are used for surveillance of military installations and critical infrastructure, the newspaper reported.

In a 2017 memo, the US Department of Homeland Security warned it believes that Chinese firm DJI, the world's largest maker of consumer drones, is "selectively targeting government and privately-owned entities within these sectors to expand its ability to collect and exploit sensitive US data".

DJI disputes that, however, saying some of its drones can be modified to prevent their transmitting data back to the company or connecting to the Internet, and that the Chinese government has never sought the data that DJI does have.

DJI officials also say a US Interior Department report released last Wednesday had concluded that DJI drones met that department's security standards.

 
 

DJI plans to assemble drones at a plant in Cerritos, California, to serve the US market.

Competitors are struggling to match DJI's prices and the weak state of the domestic drone industry in the US has become a national defence concern, the daily reported.

A White House memo on June 10 instructed the US Defence Department to find a fix for the "shortfall in the defence industrial base relating to production of small unmanned aerial systems".

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 08, 2019, with the headline 'US aims to ground Chinese-made drones on security concerns'. Print Edition | Subscribe