US lawmakers to crackdown on Feds buying and using Chinese-made drones

Top lawmakers have introduced two new measures aimed at stopping the US government from purchasing and operating drones made by China and other foreign adversaries with taxpayer funds.

The first bill, the "American Security Drone Act," was introduced Wednesday by Congressional lawmakers belonging to a House committee on China.

The bill seeks to ban the federal government from using American taxpayer dollars to purchase or operate Chinese drones, which account for over 50% of all the drones sold in the US.

Lawmakers say the majority of those drones are from one Chinese company – DJI – and are being used by multiple US public safety agencies, including the Department of Homeland Security, Secret Service, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and the US Coast Guard.

“For years, I’ve been sounding the alarm on the risks that Chinese-made drones pose to United States’ national security, said Florida Senator Rick Scott, who spearheaded the legislation.

“The US cannot and will not sit idly by while Xi and the Chinese Communist Party operate within the confines of our government to spy and gather intel on our nation through drones from Chinese-based companies like DJI,” Scott said.

The Shenzhen-based company had hired two lobbyist firms back in July to try and persuade Congress to dismiss the Act.

Dji store
DJI is a Chinese technology company that manufactures commercial drones for aerial photography and videography. Image by Shutterstock

Once enacted, the American Security Drone Act would also apply to local and state governments, prohibiting them from buying Chinese drones using any federal funds derived from grants, contracts or other agreements.

The Act would also require local and state agencies to file a federal report detailing their current inventory of commercial off-the-shelf drones and unmanned aircraft systems obtained from other countries, like China, identified as national security threats.

Lastly, the bill would provide agencies with a timeline to end the current use of foreign-made drones.

Several agencies, including the Departments of Defense, Homeland Security, and Justice, would be exempt from the bill’s prohibitions under conditions specified in the bill.. Other agencies could apply for a waiver on a case-by-case basis, according to the bill.

The Act is now part of the FY2024 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which was approved in July.

Additionally, another amendment related to the American Security Drone Act was passed unanimously by the Senate on Tuesday.

Besides restricting federal funding, the Senate measure takes the Act a step further by also prohibiting the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) from buying or operating drones produced specifically in China, Russia, Iran, North Korea, Venezuela, or Cuba.

The amendment will be added to an Appropriations Minibus funding package for Military Construction-VA, Agriculture, and Transportation agencies to be voted on this week.

US drone industry could get needed boost

Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle say both bills will help to boost the drone manufacturing industry in the US.

“The United States should lead the world in drone production and investment, said Senator Mark Warner (D-VA), who has been vocal on the issues in June.

Our reliance on drones from foreign adversaries like the People’s Republic of China, which has shown time and time again it will do whatever it takes to get its hands on sensitive American data, is extremely risky,” Warner said.

In 2019, Congress banned the Pentagon from buying or using drones and/or drone components if they were manufactured in China.

“Taxpayer dollars should never fund drones manufactured in regions that are hostile toward our nation,” said Senator Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn), who introduced the Senate amendment along with Warner.

Meanwhile, in August, the Chinese government announced its own export controls on some of its drones and drone-related equipment, citing "national security and interests."

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