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US military gets authority to shoot down citizens' small drones

Meanwhile, DJI says it had no idea army was using its kit

Flak guns on a portion of the old Nazi German Atlantic Wall defence network. Pic: Shutterstock
Flak for drones – and flak for drone maker DJI as a result of the US Army ban on their products

The US Army issued guidance to its formations a few months ago allowing it to shoot down consumer drones buzzing its units, according to reports.

It is illegal to fly a consumer-grade drone within 400ft of a US Army base in April, the US Department of Defence stressed this week.

Larger drones, or unmanned aerial vehicles, as militaries around the world tend to refer to them, are subject to the usual rules for manned aircraft when it comes to thou-shalt-not-overpass areas.

“Protecting our force remains a top priority, and that's why DoD issued the specific, but classified policy developed with the Federal Aviation Administration and our interagency partners that details how DoD personnel may counter the unmanned aircraft threat,” said Captain Jeff Davis of the US Navy in the DoD statement.

Various reports surfaced in July about the US Air Force wanting to shoot down small drones. It would appear that expressions of public frustration by USAF general James Holmes were almost instantly successful behind the scenes.

This comes hot on the heels of the US Army banning its units from using any products made by Chinese drone company DJI. The firm has said it had no idea why the ban was imposed, while insisting that “we do not market our products for military customers”. The ban was revealed in a memo obtained by drone blog sUAS News and reported here on El Reg.

“Due to increased awareness of cyber vulnerabilities associated with DJI products, it is directed that the US Army halt use of all DJI products,” the memo said.

The Chinese company reacted with dismay to the ban, which was thought to affect around 300 drones in use with various US Army units. Although it told us that its drones don’t beam back information to China, hackers who have popped open DJI’s code reckon the capability to do so has already been baked into the devices.

The company’s latest statement on the ban says that it makes “civilian drones for peaceful purposes. They are built for personal and professional use, and are not designed for military uses or constructed to military specifications. We do not market our products for military customers, and if military members choose to buy and use our products as the best way to accomplish their tasks, we have no way of knowing who they are or what they do with them.”

“If any of our customers have questions or concerns about DJI’s technology, we ask them to contact us directly so we can work to address them,” it concluded.

The US Army told us last week that it was reviewing the ban, without going into any more detail than that.

Various British state agencies, from police to branches of the civil service, use drones for a variety of tasks. The Ministry of Defence told the BBC that it does not use DJI products – and then declined to comment further. ®

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