US Congress seeks to ban military purchases of Chinese-made drones for security reasons

An employee shows a Mavic Pro 2 drone in a DJI store in Shanghai on May 22, 2019. PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON - United States lawmakers are proposing to ban military purchases of Chinese-made drones on grounds of national security, the Wall Street Journal reported on Sunday (July 7)

The National Defence Authorisation Act passed by the Senate last week would bar Chinese drones for military use as US officials grow worried that the country's reliance on Chinese drones may be putting critical US infrastructure at risk, the Journal 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 House version of the Bill, expected to get a vote this month, would ban foreign drones, the report said.

"Chinese-made drones pose a huge national-security risk," said Senator Chris Murphy, a Democrat from Connecticut, 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 Journal reported.

In a 2017 memo, the US Department of Homeland Security warned that 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 the DJI does have.

DJI officials also say that an Interior Department report released on Wednesday had concluded that DJI drones meet that department's security standards. DJI plans to assemble drones at a plant in Cerritos, California, to serve the US market.

Competitors struggle to match DJI's prices, and the weak state of the domestic drone industry has become a national defence concern, the Journal reported.

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

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