Late last month the Pentagon issued a memo which effectively prohibited U.S Marine Corps members from buying or using off-the-shelf drones.
The move was prompted by multiple U.S security agencies raising concerns regarding the vulnerability of drones to being hacked. In particular, that video or photos of sensitive U.S locations or military assets might be accessed by hostile nations or groups.
The memo was released on May 23 and and cites a May 14 Defense Department Inspector General report that found the Pentagon did not have adequate procedures to assess cybersecurity risks associated with use of commercial drone systems.
Aren’t U.S Marines already using drones for combat?
They sure are. We’ve previously told you about how tiny drones were being integrated into the arsenals of US armed forces to help increase “situational awareness.” Marines will be getting their hands on portable suicide drones (which seek out and destroy targets). They also already possess tiny quadcopters which fly ahead of troops and scope out areas for advancing forces.
The Pentagon’s memo called for an immediate grounding “until the DoD identities and fields a solution to mitigate known cybersecurity risks.” That means that until further notice, Marines will not be permitted to use the small drones they have acquired (we assume predator drones are still a-OK).
The only exception to this rule will apply if particular unit has an “urgent need” for a drone. In this instance, Under Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan can approve the use of drone on a case-by-case basis.
We’d have to assume that a fair few of the 187,000 active Marines either own or have owned a drone at home too. Those drones are not impacted by this order.
The Pentagon is not the first government agency to express worries about Chinese made consumer-drones. In May, Senator Chris Murphy informed Defense Secretary James Mattis about “a potential national security threat” in products manufactured by DJI. In the letter Murphy spoke of how “DJI was using its products to provide critical infrastructure and law enforcement data to the Chinese government.”
“These vulnerabilities pose a tremendous national security risk, as the information obtained by the Chinese government could be used to conduct physical or cyber-attacks against U.S. civilian and military targets,” wrote Murphy.
DJI strongly refuted these allegations and recently issued an independent report showing their UAVs do not harvest user data without user’s consent.