New law might change the landscape of American drone operations

20-06 | |
Photo: DJI
Photo: DJI

A consequential piece of legislation, known as the Countering CCP Drones Act, looms on the horizon. It could potentially alter the landscape of American drone operations.

The law, sponsored by Republicans Elise Stefanik and Mike Gallagher, is part of the 2025 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA FY25), which has passed the House of Representatives. The House version of the NDAA FY25 includes the Countering CCP Drones Act.

The law might restrict the use of drones made by Chinese companies, like DJI. According to estimates, DJI drones make up 58% of the commercial drone market in the U.S. Around 4,000 to 5,000 drones have been imported into the US from China for agricultural spraying. As much as 99% of drones in the US are Chinese ones, mostly made by DJI of XAG.

Next, the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) will review the bill. It will be discussed and could be changed before a vote. If it passes the Senate, it might be different from the version passed by the House.

The main idea behind the bill is that Chinese rules might force DJI to do things that go against American interests, like spying. Stefanik and Gallagher want DJI added to a list of banned communication equipment and services in the U.S.

Inaccurate claims

“DJI presents an unacceptable national security risk, and it is past time that drones made by Communist China are removed from America. DJI drones pose the national security threat of TikTok, but with wings”, Stefanik says.

DJI recently posted to Instagram that, if DJI’s FCC authorizations are revoked, U.S. operators would no longer be able to access new DJI drones, and their existing drone fleets may even need to be grounded. “This bill is based on inaccurate claims and contradicts a technology-based policy approach that would raise the bar on drone security overall”, DJI says.

DJI drones do not collect flight logs, photos, or videos — by default… DJI is not a military company

DJI has rebuked the allegations levelled against it, asserting its adherence to stringent data protection protocols. “DJI drones do not collect flight logs, photos, or videos — by default… DJI is not a military company. We remain one of few drone companies to clearly denounce and actively discourage the use of our drones in combat”, the company says.

Pending approval

According to U.S. company Guardian Ag, China came to dominate small drones through strategic policy, targeted investment and subsidies, driving many US companies out of business.

The US Pentagon and Congress are alarmed at how far behind the U.S. trails on manufacturing commercial drones. Last December, the American Security Drone Act, which bans federal agencies and contractors from using Chinese drones, was signed into law.

Currently, the proposed legislation has cleared the House but is pending approval and reconciliation in the Senate. Should it pass through the Senate, it will then be sent to President Joe Biden for his ultimate approval. Nevertheless, the Senate’s review of its version of the NDAA and the subsequent reconciliation process between the two versions may span several weeks or even months. Moreover, the final version of the bill could vary substantially from its original drafts.


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René Groeneveld Correspondent for Australia
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