We are still digesting this week’s news — and its implications. On October 6, US secretary of the interior David Bernhardt released a memo urging that government departments purchase drones from a specific list of US-made products. Who made that list? And what does all this mean?
If you’re interested in drones and if you’re interested in business, there’s plenty to unpack this week. It started with that memo from Bernhardt. In it, he starts by offering some recent background. Specifically, he refers to his own Secretary’s Order 3379. What’s that, you ask? Well, in late January, Bernhardt effectively banned his Department’s use of non-US-made drones for all but emergency purposes. The reasoning was to “better ensure the cybersecurity and supply of American technology of UAS procured for use and operation.” Bernhardt went on to add that emergency drone operations — fighting wildfires, Search and Rescue, and other urgent flights — would still continue.
It’s worth taking a look at some of the other wording in that memo, as well as look the government organization that came up with the list of five approved “Blue sUAS.”
In the memo, Bernhardt says a few significant things have happened since Secretary’s Order 3379 was issued. Specifically:
Subsequent implementing guidance from the Assistant Secretary for Policy, Management and Budget (PMB) has offered additional information on what constitutes a Designated UAS, the applicability of the order to various non-Department entities, and the procedures for obtaining Departmental approval for, or reporting use of, a designated UAS for an authorized purpose.
David Bernhardt, DOI Secretary
The secretary then goes on to outline that there are now preferred suppliers for government drone purchases, with a link to what could be thought of as a shopping list:
While the Order has been in effect, the Department of Defense’s Defense Innovation Unit (DIU) recently finalized its Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems (sUAS) initiative, which is called Blue sUAS. This capability provides secure and trusted sUAS for Federal government operations. I invite you and appropriate staff to look at https://diu.mil/autonomy-blue-suas, to determine whether those solutions may help meet the Department’s needs…
A closer look
Let’s check out the link recommended by Bernhardt.
“About the project”
The Blue sUAS page offers an explanation, off the top, about what it does:
The Blue sUAS project developed trusted small unmanned aerial systems (sUAS) for the broader Department of Defense and Federal Government partners. This effort builds upon the US Army’s sUAS program of record, Short Range Reconnaissance (SRR), for an inexpensive, rucksack portable, vertical take-off and landing sUAS. Blue sUAS systems share the SRR air vehicles’ capabilities but integrate a vendor provided ground control system.
Defense Innovation Unit’s Blue sUAS page
The page then goes on to explain how to procure Blue sUAS, followed by a table outlining the required specifications each of the sUAS had to meet. Interestingly, there are no data security requirements listed on this page. Here’s the chart:
The page then lists the five preferred Blue sUAS. If you haven’t seen the list yet, here it is:
- Altavian’s ION M440C
- Parrot’s Anafi USA
- Skydio’s X2
- Teal’s Golden Eagle
- Vantage Robotics Vespa
‘Buy it now’
Perhaps there’s a huge lineup of departments that have been just waiting to purchase drones since the January ban. It certainly would appear that way, as the Defense Innovation Unit’s Blue sUAS page includes very clear instructions on how to go about purchasing these drones. Check out these snaps from the DIU page:
The Defense Innovation Unit, and Bernhardt’s memo, certainly make it clear that it’s Game On for purchasing approved drones. Worth noting is, despite all the discussion over the past couple of years about data security and integrity, there is no explanation on the DIU site about what specifications on that front were required from a drone before it could make the list. One could argue (maybe) that this is not information for public consumption. But it’s hard to imagine that phrases like “end-to-end encryption” would pose any significant security issue.
DJI, in a statement sent to us yesterday, describes the list as “thinly veiled economic protectionism.” Certainly, the directive is in line with Donald Trump’s 2017 Executive Order to Buy American and Hire American. In fact, this alignment was pointed out in the DOI email to DroneDJ that announced the new memo.
The five companies whose products are listed on this site were, according to the DIU site, already in a pool of US government contractors. But highlighting five specific drones, along with frictionless means to purchase them (and a tone that seems to encourage their purchase), gives these companies a tremendous competitive advantage over companies like DJI.
We’re all for seeing drone companies thrive. And with recent estimates that this market will be worth some $92 billion by 2030, there should be more than enough business to go around.
And the five companies selected by the Defense Innovation Unit? They’ve just been handed the equivalent of a Five-Star rating, complete with Buy it Now links.