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DoD Cleared to Buy US-Made Small Drones Through Blue sUAS Program

Since drones became widely available, military forces around the world have been using them extensively. The DoD, however, has up until now not had the opportunity to safely adopt such systems.

As of September 1, the US Department of Defense (DoD) has been able to buy small drones from five Pentagon-approved manufacturers. The go-ahead is the result of an 18-month project, coined Blue small Unmanned Aircraft Systems (sUAS), to develop small, reliable drones for the DoD.

Since drones became widely available, military forces around the world have been using the technology extensively to gain a bird’s-eye view of the battlefield.

The DoD, however, has up until now not had the opportunity to safely adopt such systems as it faced serious security concerns over Chinese-sourced drones. In August 2017, the US Armed Forces issued a blanket ban on all Chinese-made DJI drones. And earlier this year, the Department of the Interior grounded its fleet of more than 800 drones after citing specific technology gaps.

Blue sUAS Drones

Rising tensions between the US and China created a demand for bankable drones that Washington could rely on. Recognizing the need for such UAS, the Defense Innovation Unit (DIU) – a DoD organization responsible for accelerating commercial technology for national defense and security – took the lead in developing systems broadly applicable to several kinds of users and missions.

On August 19, the DIU introduced the Blue sUAS project through a virtual launch event and announced its five participants. The project addresses the demand for secure, capable, and American-made drones. The drones will be deployed in the military, federal agencies, and government operations.

During the launch event, White House Chief Technology Officer Michael Kratsios said Blue sUAS “represents a tremendous first step toward building a robust and trusted UAS domestic industrial base that ensures sustained delivery of highly-capable, secure UAS to the war fighters that depend on it.”

Blue sUAS Manufacturers

During DIU’s launch event, the organization provided an overview of approved manufacturers: Altavian (M440 Ion), Parrot (ANAFI USA), Skydio (X2), Teal (Golden Eagle), and Vantage Robotics (Vesper).

Drones available through the Blue sUAS program are easy to assemble and have an operational range of over three kilometers. They have a flight endurance greater than 30 minutes and can fly through dust and rain.

The US government provided millions in aid to each company to build military-grade drones, and worked extensively with them over the past year and a half during development. The DIU now believes the systems are ready for use.

Beginning in September, DoD entities will be able to buy these small, American-manufactured drones.

Vantage Robotics, one of the manufacturers, called Blue sUAS a “first step towards commercial-federal and ecosystem-wide collaboration.”

Alternative to Chinese Drones

The project is part of a larger push to develop domestic alternatives to Chinese drones, which have been banned for use by the DoD and other federal agencies. Investing in the domestic drone industry is a critical move to safeguard national security.

“We need an alternative to Chinese-made small drones and Blue sUAS is a first step in achieving that objective,” said DIU Director Mike Brown in a press release. “Working across DoD and the US government aggregates the business opportunity for these five vendors and enhances the long-term viability of this capability for the US and our allies.”

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