US drone makers up in arms about Chinese industry advancement

17-04 | |
Drone from Hylio. - Photo: Hylio
Drone from Hylio. - Photo: Hylio

Drones are unquestionably great tools for crop spraying, surveying and mapping, but their consequences are potentially grave if gotten into the wrong hands. US drone companies are warning about alleged, and strongly disputed, security risks stemming from an increasing reliance on Chinese tech, writes AgTechNavigator.

Around 4,000 to 5,000 drones or ‘uncrwed aerial systemes’(UAS) have been imported into the US from China for agricultural spraying, estimates drone company Guardian Ag. As much as 99% of drones in the US are Chinese ones, mostly made by DJI of XAG. According to 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 now sufficiently alarmed at how far behind the US trails on manufacturing commercial drones that the American Security Drone Act, which bans federal agencies and contractors from using Chinese drones, was signed into law in December. The Defense Department also introduced a procurement program called Replicator, which is designed to spur homegrown production of drones. These steps should help tilt the playing field back to level.

Concerns about information

Spring planting season is upon us and farmers across the US have begun fertiliser and weed spray applications, many via drones. This had led to concerns that some farmers may be accidentally be sharing vital information about the location and health of American crops with China, warns agricultural drone expert Arthur Erikson, CEO of Hylio, a US drone manufacturer.

Erikson is urging farmers to buy American-made drones designed specifically for agricultural operators, with the message that their data is completely secure. In January 2024 the US Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Agency and Federal Bureau of Investigation also released an update warning memo noted ‘that the use of Chinese-manufactured UAS in critical infrastructure operations risks exposing sensitive information to authorities of the People’s Republica of China (PRC)’.

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Ed Asscheman Online editor Future Farming
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