Pentagon report clears use of drones made by top Chinese manufacturer
Two drone models made by China’s largest manufacturer have been cleared for use by a Pentagon audit, according to a report summary obtained by The Hill.
An analysis of the two Da Jiang Innovations (DJI) drones built for government use found “no malicious code or intent” and are “recommended for use by government entities and forces working with US services,” the summary said.
The remainder of the report, dated May 6, remains classified. The report’s author, second chief warrant officer with the U.S. Army Special Operations Command Adam Prater, declined to publicly comment on the summary.
The Defense Department did not immediately respond to an inquiry from The Hill.
The report appears to analyze changes made to two drones used by the Interior Department.
The agency temporarily grounded its fleet of more than 500 DJI drones in January 2020 over cybersecurity concerns, with some exceptions for emergency use. The Interior Department in March made it easier for a drone mission to qualify as an emergency.
The Pentagon findings follow allegations of data sharing with the Chinese government lobbed against DJI by lawmakers such as Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-Texas) and GOP Sens. Marco Rubio (Fla.), Marsha Blackburn (Tenn.), Tom Cotton (Ark.), Rick Scott (Fla.) and John Cornyn (Texas).
The company has maintained that no data is transferred from its products to either the Chinese Communist Party or the company itself.
An analysis by the consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton released last June found no evidence that DJI drones previously used by the U.S. government have made those kinds of transfers.
The Pentagon report may provide fuel for DJI’s efforts to restore government use of its drones, even if it only analyzed two of the models.
“This U.S. government report is the strongest confirmation to date of what we, and independent security validations, have been saying for years – DJI drones are safe and secure for government and enterprise operations,” DJI spokesperson Adam Lisberg told The Hill.
The report comes after escalating concerns at the federal level around the security of DJI and Chinese drones more broadly.
DJI was added to the Commerce Department’s “entity list” late last year, effectively blacklisting the company.
The Justice Department also banned the use of agency grants last year to purchase drones from foreign companies deemed a threat.
Lawmakers are currently weighing restrictions against the use of Chinese drones.
The massive bipartisan U.S. Innovation and Competition Act, which was introduced as a substitute amendment to the Endless Frontier Act last month by Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), includes the American Security Drone Act.
The bill, introduced in the Senate in January by Scott, would prohibit the federal government from purchasing drones manufactured by countries deemed to be a threat to the U.S., such as China. It is co-sponsored by a bipartisan group of senators.
Lawmakers have also sought to lock Chinese hardware out of telecommunications networks on vague national security allegations. Both Huawei and ZTE remain on the entity list, although the Biden administration is currently conducting a review of their inclusion.