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The US government is planning to ground a fleet of nearly 1,000 drones it fears could be compromised by the People’s Republic of China (PRC).

As reported by the Financial Times yesterday, the Interior Department is halting the use of over 800 drones that contain parts developed in the PRC. 

The decision to ground the unmanned flying fleet was triggered by concerns that the Chinese parts could be utilized by the PRC government for the purpose of spying on the activities of the United States.

A total of 810 remotely controlled quadcopters were grounded in October 2019 pending an investigation into their security. Now officials have warned that the PRC government has the ability to access images captured by the drones together with their location data. 

The Times was informed of the plan to permanently ground the fleet by two individuals who had been party to a briefing on the subject. Documents obtained by the paper indicate that the proposal has met with objections from various agencies.   

“Unmanned aircraft systems are a unique tool that fit into this mission and allow us to make high-quality surface observations at a fraction of the price of manned aircraft operations,” an Interior Department staff member wrote in an email obtained by the Times

The grounding has not yet been officially approved by Interior Secretary David Bernhardt. However, the Times‘ sources have said that it is likely that Bernhardt will take the drones out of service, reserving them for training purposes and providing assistance in emergency scenarios such as tackling wildfires. 

Drones are already used by the Interior Department as a cheaper and safer alternative to tracking natural resources, mapping terrain, inspecting dams, and monitoring wildfires with manned aircraft. 

An all-American drone designed and manufactured completely in the United States is still years away from becoming a reality, according to the Times‘ official sources. 

Legislation banning the US government from using drones manufactured by countries deemed to be “non-cooperative” with America is currently being considered by Congress. The two pieces of legislation proposed are the American Drone Security Act in the Senate and the Drone Origin Security Enhancement Act in the House.

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