The US government organization that established the Blue sUAS list of what it considers efficient, economical, and data-secure drones for official use by administration agencies says it is widening the scope of activities those craft fulfill, and increasing the number of manufacturers involved from five to 11.
The government-mandated Defense Innovation Unit (DIU) is calling its relaunched effort Blue sUAS 2.0, suggestive of a bigger, more ambitious, and improved iteration of the program overseen for over a year now. In general terms, both versions define the technical, performance, and security specifics craft must meet to make the de facto government-approved Blue sUAS list for procurement and operation by various public agencies – notably the Department of Defense (DoD). The reboot of that, DUI says, extends its scope from initial short range reconnaissance criteria to other areas.
“The need for additional capabilities in sUAS that are policy-compliant and cost effective was a large driving force behind Blue sUAS 2.0,” DIU’s announcement says. “The project will increase the diversity, capability, and affordability of sUAS on DIU’s ‘Blue UAS Cleared List.’ This expansion includes capabilities requested by the DoD and its federal partners including infrastructure inspection, mapping, carrying secondary payloads, and more traditional reconnaissance tasks. These systems will undergo cyber-security evaluations, policy compliance checks, and be issued the necessary approval documents required for any DoD user to procure.”
The five drones DUI chosen for its initial, comparatively mission-restricted list were the Teal Golden Eagle, Vantage Vesper, Teledyne/FLIR Ion M440, Skydio X2D, and Parrot Anafi USA.
The 11 craft manufacturers retained to participate in the Blue sUAS 2.0 list’s diversified range of capabilities are Ascent AeroSystems, BlueHalo, Easy Aerial, FlightWave Aerospace Systems, Freefly Systems East, Harris Aerial, Inspired Flight Technologies, senseFly, Skydio, Vision Aerial, and Wingtra.
Blue sUAS 2.0: a better, broader drone procurement app update, or protectionist reboot?
DIU says Blue sUAS at once streamlines and accelerates the processes for authorizing drone operation by government agencies, while also defining a broader range of capabilities those craft can provide agencies. Critics, however, contend the program is thinly veiled protectionism designed to lock Chinese aircraft manufacturers out of US procurement activity that’s estimated to reach $92 billion by 2030 – particularly world leader DJI.
Indeed, a DoD memo on future procurement that DIU cites as the basis of its Blue sUAS 2.0 initiative explicitly states that “(m)itigating the threats posed by small UAS, including Da Jiang Innovations (DJI) systems, remains a priority across the department… (which recognizes) certain foreign made commercial UAS pose a clear and present threat to U.S. national security.”
The genesis and operation of DIU and Blue sUAS has come under scrutiny before. Back in July, meanwhile, a leaked Interior Department memo claimed Blue sUAS drones were eight to 14 times more expensive than sidelined foreign rivals, whose sensor capacities were some 95% greater. The response to those claims were alternatively infuriated and shrill, but consistently attacked DJI as the mainstay of their counterarguments.
Frictions between the US and China have only increased since then, as has the volume of US drone manufacturers, lobbying groups, and legislators accusing DJI of being a security threat. Whatever the case, only time will tell whether Blue sUAS 2.0 is intended to and capable of bringing better, less expensive, and data-safe craft to government agencies as stated, or if the list winds up being an upgraded protectionist app.
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