Under the latest regulation on drones, federal agencies may need to replace, or at least revise, their current fleet of Chinese or other overseas-made drones.
BREAKING – Show me the money! Opposing land drones are being replaced?
By the editor Dawn MK Zoldi *
So far, most of the US government’s particular political-economic attention, at least in relation to foreign drones, has been on China. That changed with the Ordinance of January 18, 2021 protecting the United States from certain unmanned aerial vehicle systems (UAS), which expanded the drone technology war between the US and China to fronts in North Korea, Iran and Russia.
In addition to these countries listed, the regulation gives the Minister of Commerce the power to designate “any other foreign nation, territory or NGO that engages in long-term patterns or serious conduct that significantly affects national or economic security of the EU United States. “
Its purpose is to “prevent the use of taxpayers money to procure UAS that pose unacceptable risks and are manufactured by foreign adversaries or contain software or critical electronic components by foreign adversaries, and to encourage the use of domestically manufactured UAS” .
However, the recent regulation on drones is not an actual omission. It falls more into the “Go Review” category than the “Can Do” category. The government must review its “power to suspend” the procurement, financing or contracting of the “covered UAS” of such foreign adversaries within the next 60 days. The term “covered UAS” refers to all UAS that:
(i) is manufactured in whole or in part by a facility located in an opposing country;
(ii) uses critical electronic components installed in flight controls, ground control system processors, radios, digital transmitters, cameras or gimbals that are manufactured in whole or in part in an opposing country;
(iii) uses operating software (including mobile phone or tablet applications, but not mobile phone or tablet operating systems) that has been developed in whole or in part by an entity located in a host country;
(iv) network connectivity or data storage is used outside of the United States or is managed by an entity located in a host country; or
(v) Contains hardware and software components used to transmit photos, videos, location information, flight paths, or other data collected by the UAS and manufactured by a company based in a rival country.
The mandate also provides for the federal government to inventory covered UAS that are already owned or operated by an agency and report their existing security logs. Many federal agencies have already done this, at least with regard to China. The army first moved out when it banned Chinese drones in 2017. The Air Force and Navy did so the following year. The Department of Defense issued a political ban in 2018 that Congress later codified in Section 848 of the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal 2020. Several other federal agencies have issued similar political bans, including the Home Office and the Justice Department. Others, like the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Federal Emergency Management Agency, have blocked grant funding for such drones. The DHS office responsible for protecting critical infrastructures, the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), has been raising the alarm of the Chinese drone cybersecurity threat for years. Now add North Korea, Iran, and Russia to this list.
After the government prepares its inventory reports, no later than 120 days later, the director of the National Intelligence Service with the Minister of Defense, the Attorney General, the Minister of Homeland Security, the Director of the Science and Technology Policy Office and the heads of other appropriate agencies must review them and submit their own safety assessment to the President. This report should also set out: “Possible steps to mitigate these risks, including, if warranted, cessation of all federal use of the covered UAS and swift removal of the UAS from federal service.”
The order also gives the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) its own “go-do”. Within 270 days, pursuant to Section 2209 of the FAA Extension, Safety and Security Act of 2016 (FESSA, Public Law 114-190), the administrator should place restrictions on the use of UAS on or above critical infrastructure or other sensitive locations. . Unless they already have a process for it. It is a Temporary Flight Restriction (TFR) issued in accordance with the Special Security Instruction (SSI). Technically, TFRs can only be requested by national defense, national security, and federal intelligence and federal agencies. However, in the interests of national security, other government or private sector entities may require these authorities to sponsor a TFR for critical infrastructure, oil refineries and chemical facilities, amusement parks, or other locations that warrant such restrictions. FAA FDC NOTAM 7/7872, as amended from time to time by the FAA, defines restrictions and locations covered. You can find an updated table here and in the B4UFly app. At Disney World there was a TFR that existed even before the FESSA. If the idea is to get a direct line from private industry to the FAA through FARs, as opposed to sponsoring a security agency, the agency will definitely need additional manpower. And money.
Speaking of money, the financing is actually mentioned in the order. It encourages federal agency heads to budget for replacement drones (good for U.S. industry) and instructs the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to find the appropriate funding (even better for U.S. industry).
Perhaps because this latest drone order was one of many in the final hours of a Lameduck administration, it is not numbered and does not cite any legal authority as a basis. However, for the most part, this makes very good sense from a national security perspective. If this order is persistent – and it could – the clear winners here will be federal security agencies, as well as drone manufacturers in the United States and other countries. But only if OMB shows us the money.
* The views and opinions contained in this article are those of the author and do not reflect those of the DOD. They do not represent the approval of an organization named here and are not intended to influence the actions of the federal authorities or their employees.
Dawn MK Zoldi (Col., USAF, retired) is a licensed attorney and a 25-year Air Force veteran. She is an internationally recognized expert in the law and politics of unmanned aircraft systems, a columnist for Law-Tech Connect ™ for Inside Unmanned Systems magazine, recipient of the Woman to Watch in UAS (Leadership) Award 2019 and CEO of P3 Tech Consulting LLC. You can find more information on their website at: https://www.p3techconsulting.com.
Miriam McNabb is editor-in-chief of DRONELIFE and CEO of JobForDrones, a marketplace for professional drone services, and a fascinating observer of the emerging drone industry and the regulatory environment for drones. Miriam has written over 3,000 articles focusing on the commercial drone space and is an international speaker and recognized figure in the industry. Miriam graduated from the University of Chicago and has over 20 years experience in high tech sales and marketing for new technologies.
For advice or writing on the drone industry, email Miriam.
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