U.S. Sens. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) and Mark Warner (D-Va.) on June 8 introduced bipartisan legislation aimed at preventing foreign-produced drones from flying over American skies.
Known as the “Stemming The Operation of Pernicious and Illicit (STOP Illicit) Drones Act,” the bill (pdf) would ban the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) from buying or using drones produced in China as well as a string of other nations including Russia, Iran, North Korea, Venezuela, and Cuba.
The bill does grant an exemption for cases where drones are used for detection or counter-UAS (Unmanned Aircraft Systems) testing and warfare analysis and operations.
Under the legislation, the FAA would also be prohibited from providing federal funds to certain foreign drone companies from China and several other countries.
Funding would be banned under any of the FAA’s programs including its Aviation Research Grant Program, Aviation Workforce Development Program, and the Airport Improvement Project Program, among others.
The legislation also requires the FAA to replace any such foreign drones with a U.S. or allied drone within 12 months and submit a report to Congress within 180 days of the bill going into effect detailing how many foreign drones it has and the cost of replacing them.
The report must also detail the changes the FAA has made to its procurement, operation, and contracting processes to ensure it does not violate the ban on foreign drones going forward.
Clampdown on Chinese Drones
In 2018, the Pentagon banned the purchase and use of all commercial off-the-shelf drones, regardless of manufacturer, owing to cybersecurity concerns.
A year later, Congress passed legislation prohibiting the Department of Defense from purchasing and using drones and components manufactured in China.
More recently, the Pentagon banned the use of drones made by the Chinese company DJI, which had until recently controlled roughly 70 percent of the global drone market, citing potential threats to national security.
The Department of Defense did, however, make an exception on such purchases in cases where the Chinese drones were being used to conduct “certain types of analysis or operations.”
Despite the clampdown on Chinese-made drones, Blackburn and Warner told Reuters that the FAA currently operates over a dozen drones manufactured in China.
“While the New Axis of Evil is looking for every opportunity to take advantage of the United States, we cannot leave our critical technologies sector open to vulnerabilities,” said Blackburn in a statement.
“Just as importantly, taxpayer dollars should never fund drones manufactured in regions that are hostile toward the U.S. The STOP Illicit Drones Act helps curb the importation of drones produced by our adversaries, keeping our nation safer and encouraging manufacturing here at home,” the Republican senator added.
‘Advancing Goals of Adversaries’
Warner, meanwhile, noted that drones have the potential to transform key industries and aspects of American society across areas including agriculture, emergency services, and transporting goods.
“As the adoption of this technology grows, we need to make sure that we are not advancing the goals of our adversaries, who wish to saturate the market with drones that pose a threat to our national security,” said Warner. “I’m proud to introduce this legislation to ensure that federal resources and dollars do not go towards products that defy U.S. interests.”
The latest legislation comes shortly after Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) urged U.S. Capitol Police (USCP) to stop using drones made by Chinese-owned Autel Robotics, citing their “significant national security risk.”
In a letter to USCP Chief J. Thomas Manger, Rubio asked that all drones made by the company and any other drones manufactured or produced in China be immediately disbanded and replaced with those that do not pose such a risk.
The agency’s public information office later told NBC News that it had scrapped all of the Chinese-made drones which it said were not connected to Capitol Police’s network. The office added that the drones had also operated on “a self-contained system” that was not connected to the server of the Chinese company.
The Epoch Times has contacted the FAA for comment.