US Army order soldiers to stop using Chinese DJI drones, security risks posed

U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. Paul Butcher, an explosive ordnance disposal technician with Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force-Crisis Response-Central Command, flies a DJI Mavic Pro Drone while forward deployed in the Middle East, May 25, 2017. The drone used during the training is a proof of concept in order to determine its applicability for operational use. The six-day field training exercise captured the challenges and value of operating in a joint service environment, enhanced skill development and promoted the exchange of tactics, techniques and procedures. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Shellie Hall)

The US Army has ordered all troops to immediately stop using consumer drones manufactured by Chinese tech company DJI citing operational risks associated with the popular drone, also set to be delivered to the Israeli army this month.

In a memo obtained by sUAS News, Lt. Gen. Joseph H. Anderson, the Army’s Deputy Chief of Staff for Plans and Operations, wrote that troops should “cease all use, uninstall all DJI applications, remove all batteries/storage media from devices, and secure equipment for follow on direction.”

The directive cited research by the US Army Research Lab and US Navy which concluded that the company’s products could be easily compromised by third parties.

“Due to increased awareness of cyber vulnerabilities associated with DJI products, it is directed that the US Army halt use of all DJI products. This guidance applies to all DJI UAS and any system that employs DJI electrical components or software including, but not limited to, flight computers, cameras, radios, batteries, speed controllers, GPS units, handheld control stations, or devices with DJI software applications installed.”

The US army uses drones for a wide variety of missions and DJI “products are the most widely used non-program of record commercial off-the-shelf UAS employed by the Army,” the memo continued.

In a statement to sUAS News Michael Perry, DJI’s Public Relations Manager, said that the company was “surprised and disappointed to read reports of the US Army’s unprompted restriction on DJI drones as we were not consulted during their decision. We are happy to work directly with any organization, including the U.S. Army, that has concerns about our management of cyber issues.

“We’ll be reaching out to the US Army to confirm the memo and to understand what is specifically meant by ‘cyber vulnerabilities’,” Perry continued.

The IDF is due to receive hundreds of DJI-made drones in August to be used by the army’s infantry brigades stationed in the West Bank as well as the mixed-gender combat battalions in the Border Defense Corps in a project which cost millions of shekels.

Every IDF company commander in the ground forces will receive either a Mavic or Matrice drone, and have already undergone weeks of training at the Combat Intelligence Collection Corps’ school Sayarim in the southern part of the country.

The Mavic, which weighs less than 2 pounds and has a single battery life of up to twenty minutes at a speed of 65km/hour, can fold up and fit into a pouch. The drone comes two flight modes, including “sport” which allows it to fly at top speed, bank and turn sharply to avoid danger thanks to two front-facing sensors.

Other combat intelligence battalions in the IDF will also receive the larger Matrice four-bladed quadcopter, equipped with double the battery life than the Mavic, ability to fly at night and in bad weather, and considered more robust at just over 5 pounds.

Both drones are not considered combat drones and the Mavic will only be used during the day to help the company commander gather intelligence that he otherwise would have had only binoculars to rely on.

While the drones are not military-grade and are not encrypted, a senior IDF told The Jerusalem Post in June that the drones are worth the risk adding that “they are an interim solution and worth the risk until we have a military drone.”

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