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Chinese Drones - A Risk to U.S. Army

August 9th 2017

Flying Robot

The U.S. Army has shut down drones made in China and used by the Pentagon.  What took them so long?

As we now have it, the U.S. Army has issued a Memorandum for the Record on August 2nd essentially ordering the discontinuation of the use of DJI (Dajiang Innovation Products) drones. DJI is a Chinese company; its products are commercial UAVs.  The Army, Navy, other services, and other government agencies use these products extensively.

The Army's Memorandum directed the Army to cease all use of DJI items, uninstall all DJI applications and software from Army computers, remove all batteries and storage media from DJI equipment and secure the equipment awaiting further directions from the Army.

The Army Memorandum looks legitimate and, although somewhat taken by surprise on the Army's action, no one has said that the Memorandum was not the real thing. And, according to the Memorandum itself, it referenced two papers, one by the Army and the other by the Navy. Both are classified. The Army paper is "DJI UAS Technology Threat and User Vulnerability" of 25 May, prepared by the Army Research Laboratory; the Navy paper is "Operational Risks with Regards to DJI Family of Products," dated 24 May. No Navy office is referenced for the Navy paper, which is in the form of a Memorandum.

The Army's Memorandum of August 2nd appears to have caught DJI completely by surprise. DJI has responded by proposing it work with the Defense Department to sort out whatever problems there may be with its products. DJI commercial UAVs are the market leader for small quadcopter UAVs. These UAVs typically carry high resolution video cameras but can also carry other sensors or even weapons. DJI features two models that are popular worldwide: these are the DJI Phantom (the top of the line version costs around $1,500) and the DJI Mavic (top of the line sells for around $1,295). These and other DJI models can be easily bought online at various outlets including Amazon and eBay in the United States and elsewhere globally.

Other foreign military units use the DJI quadcopter, even Israel and that even though the data links for the quadcopter are not encrypted and the DJI quadcopter is hackable.

The Phantom model is the top model used by ISIS. Either ISIS flies it with a camera or they modify the drone to carry a grenade or other explosive. A number of coalition troops have been killed including two Kurdish fighters in Iraq back in October in what might have been a booby-trapped quadcopter. Similar drones were used repeatedly in Mosul against coalition troops but fitted with PG-7 HEAT warheads that are used on RPG-7 rockets. On one day in Mosul alone there were some ten explosions and quadcopter drones were in the air virtually every day during the fighting. Hezbollah also used these modified quadcopters in Aleppo and the Syrian Army encountered them at Deir ez Zour.

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