As a next step to the U.S. government’s ban on Chinese-manufactured drones, including the world’s largest manufacturer, DJI; the U.S. Department of Defense has released a list of government approved drones. The list of products, referred to as “Blue sUAS,” come from 5 different manufacturers: Skydio, Parrot, Altavian, Teal Drones, and Vantage Robotics.
The Defense Innovation Unit (DIU) is a Department of Defense (DOD) organization “that accelerates commercial technology for national defense.” DIU says that todays announcement of “five U.S.-manufactured drone configurations to provide trusted, secure small Unmanned Aircraft Systems (sUAS) options to the U.S. Government,” is a follow-up to the unit’s Short Range Reconnaissance (SRR) program, which worked with manufacturers to supply inexpensive, portable, and rapidly deployable small drones for U.S. troops.
U.S. Government Approved Drones
Lawmakers have limited the use of government funds to purchase drones manufactured in “listed countries” – notably, China – through 848 of the Defense Authorization Act of 2020. That’s led to confusion in the market over what was allowed – and what standards of security existed. This list of government approved drones, developed in collaboration with the DoD, is an effort to address that confusion. “Recognizing the demand signal across the federal government for trusted and secure sUAS, DIU took the lead in developing systems that are broadly applicable to an array of users and mission sets,” says a DIU press release. “Coined Blue sUAS, this spinoff effort builds upon the Army’s initial success and offers sUAS that mirror the air vehicle and software architecture of SRR, but provides alternative ground controller and radio configurations to accommodate a variety of users across the federal government.”
A Shift for Drone Companies
“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 warfighters that depend on it,” said Michael Kratsios, acting under secretary of defense for research and engineering.
He added, “Blue sUAS showcases how we can both work with small, nontraditional companies and our allies and partners to quickly pilot cutting-edge technologies that support our mutual defense.”
While many of the vendors on the list are already selling into the U.S. government, these companies should have a big advantage in the drone industry: but they’re making major shifts to serve the military market. The drones will be made available on the GSA schedule starting in September 2020 “to ensure ease of procurement and to ensure availability government-wide. DOD entities can also pursue a production contract via Other Transaction Authority, leveraging the scaling option of DIU’s Commercial Solution Opening,” says the press release.
Vantage Robotics has shifted entirely to the public sector market. “We’ve pivoted our business from building drones for consumers to building military-grade, American-made intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) drones and components for commercial and government markets,” says a Vantage Robotics blog post. “This defense and commercial-focused journey largely began last year when we won a contract with FLIR to build a gimbal for its Hadron, a compact, low power form factor with a visual and thermal camera, and won a development contract with the U.S. Army to develop Short-Range Reconnaissance (SRR) prototypes with more federal contracts in the pipeline.”
“Since then, we started developing more products to meet these unique market needs, including our latest UAV Vesper.”
“..In our view, Blue sUAS is a positive first step towards commercial-federal and ecosystem-wide collaboration, and we’re proud to be one of five vendors selected. We look forward to collaborating with the DoD, its federal government partners, and fellow industry leaders Altavian, Parrot, Skydio, and Teal Drones,” says the Vantage post.
U.S.-based drone manufacturer Skydio has seen major early growth and huge interest in the consumer and commercial market – their inclusion on the list of government approved drones will give them a further boost. “It’s an honor to be selected as one of the few commercial companies asked to develop this technology in service to our country,” said Adam Bry, Skydio CEO. “As concerns around trust and security have grown, Skydio is proud to provide an American drone with the world’s most advanced autonomy technology and the highest standards of cyber and supply chain security. As the only U.S drone company manufacturing at scale, and the only company with a strong commercial and consumer foundation, we are uniquely well-suited to serve the needs of the nation’s warfighters.”
Skydio received a $100 million investment earlier this year to ramp up production and support of its products. Today, Skydio announced the addition of new executive staff to manage and grow the public sector business, as well as a new reseller agreement with government vendor ADS.
“…Having a US based IP firm and domestic manufacturing allows Skydio to blend the best in technology with home grown production, ADS is really excited to see this benefit our mutual customers,” said Ryan Angold, ADS Senior VP of Sales.
Supporting the U.S. Drone Industry
This list is also an example of U.S. government efforts to support the private U.S. drone industry. The U.S. has moved to recognize drone manufacturing as an industry critical to national security, providing COVID-19 relief funding to some U.S. drone companies in order to support their development during the crisis.
Ellen Lord, Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment, said: “Blue sUAS is a great example of DOD acquisition reform by lowering the barrier to entry for non-traditional companies to rapidly iterate shoulder to shoulder with warfighters to deliver highly-capable sUAS tailored to mission needs.”
“We need an alternative to Chinese-made small drones and Blue sUAS is a first step in achieving that objective.” said Mike Brown, director of the Defense Innovation Unit. “Working across DOD and the U.S. government aggregates the business opportunity for these five vendors and enhances the long-term viability of this capability for the U.S. and our allies.”
The following are the “Blue sUAS”:
Parrot’s Anafi USA
Altavian’s M440 Ion
Teal Drones’ Golden Eagle
Vantage Robotics’ Vesper