Who’s Your Drone Overlord?

Who’s Your Drone Overlord?

From time to time, folks like to alert me to stories that they believe need telling for various reasons. Sometimes it is just good old-fashioned FAA bureaucratic bungling, arbitrary favoritism, obfuscation and or your garden-variety industry shenanigans.

Other times it might be more severe matters like national security issues, spying, and data collection. It makes for a plethora of stories for a fella to tell.

This is one of those occasions, and in this instance, this person doesn’t want to be in the shoot the messenger crosshairs, so I will take this one for the home team and national security.

The truth is marching on…

Thoughts from a reader…

Here are some facts about what’s happening, can I talk you into a quick post
Thanks to China’s underwriting of the product manufacturers like DJI and their supporting supply chain the hobbyist can pick up a quadcopter or drone $500-$1000 USD. China’s desire to dominate the drone market is well know, because while hobbyist think of drones as adding cool shots to their YouTube channel,

China knows what the DoD knows that drones are data collectors. Intelligence agencies that protect us have caught the Chinese “red handed” excuse the unintended pun harvesting data from consumers.

Given the enthusiasm of the Chinese to not be undersold. Most US and European products have essentially become integrators and are assembling systems with Chinese manufactured components.
Upon discovery of the data harvesting by the Chinese and DJI, the US banned the Government use of Chinese manufactured drones. In 2019, DOD received a Presidential Determination (PD) to establish a program under Defense Production Act Title III to establish a reliable US supply chain for Small Unmanned Aerial Systems (sUAS) aka Drones. The challenge in creating a viable supply chain was capturing volume to drive the price down. Complex systems like radios, GPS, autopilots, and flight software are a thriving market here in the US most emanating from defense spending. The obvious key target to compete with China is the brushless motor (4 required per quadcopter) a significant cost driver and the prime mover for every quadcopter. Four juxtaposition motors are required to power and steer (through propeller speed variations) the Quadcopter. This component is very first generation and ripe for innovation,

But instead of using the Title III program to innovate this key component for the supply chain, DoD actually asked to eliminate this key component from the Title III program. This shortsighted decision only delays the US from establishing a production capability and establish a supply chain using US made materials. It delays any innovation that may occur in the design or in streamlining or automating production.

There are domestic manufactures standing by for orders! However, they cannot effectively compete with the Chinese without the billions or investment from the PRC. On a side note, aircraft certification will be hard to achieve with $3 motors. Just forget about scaled up consumer drone UAM.  

The reader continues…

In the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) language, lawmakers joined the President and sent a clear signal banning Chinese technology in Drones. Like the president they encouraged establishing US supply lines.
Given these clear messages from leadership, taxpayers would think the very first DoD program requiring quadcopter technology would include US components. Nope think again. That’s right folks our infantry soldiers will be using two commercial market products chocked full of Chinese components one offered by a French company (Parrot) and one from a Silicon Valley venture capital supported company called Skydio
I’ve been bombarded with requests for the why don’t you go after Skydio, Impossible, and the rest of the US-based “manufacturers” stories. Fair question, I don’t have the time (more to follow later in the tome), or inclination to go after the little guys when vendors like FLIR have been wetting their beaks in the DoD trough for years only to turn around and jump in the sack with DJI. Not only did they hit it, but they also begged to put a ring on it!

The place is rife with ex-DJI employees. The CEO still doesn’t want to talk about the Chinese Toy Company or National Security. Maybe he’ll read this, reexamine his priorities, and defend their position on the podcast?

The reader continues…

The program is called the US Army Short-Range Reconnaissance (SRR) Program and although some companies tried to offer a full US made product, DoD was so concerned about price point they discouraged anyone from using those pricey US suppliers. Instead they proudly used primarily consumer market products again largely comprised of Chinese components.

Now add to this, DoD completely ignoring the spirit of the President and Congress in the most recent National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) language.  It seems that even the President and Congress don’t have the power to push China out of this country’s affairs.

This information should not even come as a surprise to the ill-informed Best Buy flyer. The reason no one speaks up about DJI, well, there are a few reasons, and as a community service, I will break it down for the sake of national security.

If you are not towing the PRC party line, you are an outcast and out of business.

Who’s drone will you use to make your drone service mega-billions? The notion that DJI is only 70 percent of the market is propaganda. The ecosystem that supports Chinese drones is one that is facilitated by the PRC.

While on the subject of good old-fashioned communist propaganda. I am going to elaborate or expand on some of the points made in the following Bloomberg story.


The RoboMaster: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/RoboMaster Competition was/is also sponsored by the Communist Youth League of China, and the city government of Shenzhen. Go ahead and make the Boy Scouts argument.

The $150 million public offering: https://www.suasnews.com/2019/08/did-dji-bamboozle-you-too/

Glossed over the 3DR debacle as well as the GoPro Dharma bomb.

Hobby market share is incorrect as Intel, GoPro, and 3DR don’t make drones.
GoPro drones are bricked last that I heard, Intel drones (white-labeled) were so bad they sit on shelves deprecating, there are few spare parts for Solo, so the they’re still being flown argument is basically a moot one.

“DJI dabbles in black ops” This isn’t only employed for use against hardware and software competitors, but also news sites and groups that dare publish the truth about DJI. Just before breaking the #ChiComms series of DoD stories, bloggers from rival sites wrote stories and made blatant tinfoil hat, and conspiracy story claims on social media. In that instance, I mocked those stooges; I was already aware of the DoD’s position before the proof was published. They sold their credibility out for a few hundred dollars. Incidentally, I had a current Top Secret security clearance, unlike US-based DJI employees who said they had seen/read the classified documents.

I doubt it was anyone from within the DoD sharing classified documents with registered representatives of a company with PRC investment. I had the duty to report, and I did. However, I don’t know whatever happened to that investigation.

  1. Fraud scheme, see number 2 above
  2. DJI is all about safety, yet their drones have a range that far exceeds VLOS.
  3. UTC, we have been told ad nauseam that DJI doesn’t collect user data? AeroScope?
    Can we/they have it both ways? I guess so if you are the one writing the check to the
    independent third party security firm?
  4. Droneflaws – Not so much a hero as he flubbed the Trappy case. Many in the
    community were not supportive of or willing to lend a hand in the Trappy case as
    many found the buzzing of Lady Liberty’s head and other high profile shenanigans
    in bad taste. Secondly, Trappy was a Swiss citizen, and the FAA would have had to
    turn the model airplane incident into an international affair to prosecute old Trappy.
    If Trappy would have hired an aviation attorney instead of a Harvard educated
    Ediscovery attorney, that case may have played out very differently.
    It is all downhill from there as the 250gram registration debacle has Droneflaws’
    fingerprints all over them. He was one of the experts that went along with the
    MITRE (junk science) report that likened the small UAS threat to shrapnel from
    explosions. Not to be outfoxed alone, other drone luminaries (Greedy McNeal for the
    Small UAV Coalition and Nancy Egan, no relation for the defunct 3DR) spent a
    boatload of lobby dollars to be there and went along with the disastrous program,
    including shafting the AMA.
  5. I told Droneflaws in person that there is no way I would have given the FAA
    consensus on that garbage. I asked if shrapnel from explosions is what his company
    manufactures and sells? I would have told them that until they had something
    scientific that resembled what the company makes, I couldn’t go along with the
    program, have a nice day. Droneflwas told me he couldn’t say that. I said, I know you
    can’t, but I could, and that is when he said I wasn’t privy to the sidebar meetings. I
    said that is true because I don’t do backroom deals, as they are bad for the
    community, and that backroom deal was a floodgate of calamity.
  6. The FAA was able to gauge industry support for 336 and enticed the other players
    with potential markets for products and services without customers a mandate. We
    must remember that the DoT and FAA assured everyone that the Registration
    Taskforce work was going to usher in an era of compliance with FAA rules,
    education over enforcement, and accountability. Anyone that bought that is was a
    nincompoop in my estimation, and probably out telling people RID will be free.
  7. Concerns over Chinese drones, most of the docs referenced were published on
    sUAS News first even though Bloomberg didn’t give us attribution. I know they don’t
    like to, but what are you going to do?
  8. Political motivation, “false and misleading claims.” I’ve even seen folks trot
    racism and xenophobia out, but the reality is what it is –
  9. The US offerings – People want to believe, but these systems have shortcomings.
  10. Purchase bids – The value of the Matrice 210 is what is supplied by FLIR. That
    isn’t going to last forever, as several Chinese companies are making like sensors for
    about twenty-five percent of the cost. Hang on to your lead as long as you can!

Gore says. “There are about 1,000 police departments receiving DHS grant dollars and spending them on Chinese-made, DJI-made drones. We are using our federal dollars to fund what could become one of China’s first prime contractors.”

(See number 2)

  1. DJI lobbying – The DJI is spending a boatload of money and is also lobbying the
    states and the larger ones in the six-figure range.

Apologies go out to Gary Mortimer @thedronesagma in advance, as he will be in the
trenches fighting off the DOS attacks from the friends of the PRC.

@TheDroneDealer on the twitter.

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Patrick Egan

Editor in Field, sUAS News Americas Desk | Patrick Egan is the editor of the Americas Desk at sUAS News and host and Executive Producer of the sUAS News Podcast Series, Drone TV and the Small Unmanned Systems Business Exposition. Experience in the field includes assignments with the U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command Battle Lab investigating solutions on future warfare research projects. Instructor for LTA (Lighter Than Air) ISR systems deployment teams for an OSD, U.S. Special Operations Command, Special Surveillance Project. Built and operated commercial RPA prior to 2007 FAA policy clarification. On the airspace integration side, he serves as director of special programs for the RCAPA (Remote Control Aerial Photography Association).