As US considers total DJI drone ban, American UAVs flail in Ukraine: report

In their boundless technological and economic wisdom, US legislators responsible for blacklisting DJI drones from use by federal agencies are now preparing a de facto ban of private companies and individuals flying them, too.
If that happens, the only option would be what a Wall Street Journal report today calls “drones from American startups (that) have been deemed glitchy and expensive” in their disappointing deployment in Ukraine.

To be sure, the Journal’s investigation focuses only on the performance of US-made drones in the particular confines of Ukraine’s defensive war. That clearly involves far more complicated, exacting, and unpredictable factors – including ever-changing Russian electronic warfare technology to render them inoperative – than in normal business or consumer applications. It would therefore be misleading and unfair to suggest American UAVs are junky tech sold at top prices based only on the paper’s war zone findings.

However, it would also be remiss to ignore what many enterprise and first responder users of DJI drones have been telling willfully deaf US politicians pushing their protectionist-minded bans: That the same costlier American UAVs deployed in Ukraine’s war effort have also underperformed for many business operators – and reportedly even federal administration employees – in comparison with DJI craft.

“Ukrainian officials have found US-made drones fragile and unable to overcome Russian jamming and GPS blackout technology,” the Journal writes. “At times, they couldn’t take off, complete missions or return home. American drones often fail to fly at the distances advertised or carry substantial payloads… Many American commercial drones cost tens of thousands of dollars more each than a Chinese model.”

This is, it must be noted, comes from a newspaper owned by Fox News magnate Rupert Murdoch.

Does all that mean US drones stink, while all DJI craft are beyond reproach?  Of course not. 

Skydio – whose woes in Ukraine are documented and honestly discussed by the company in the article – has developed some pretty impressive flying tech, while BRINC is peerless in creating and enhancing astonishing UAVs and applications for police and first responder users. By all accounts, Red Cat’s Teal Drones is also gaining admirers in security and defense sectors.

Yet there’s still clearly an enormous gap between the drones, and prices, DJI has captured most of the world’s commercial and professional market with, and those produced by outdistanced US rivals. The Journal’s article replaces that within the confines of Ukraine deployment.

Part of the reason is that DJI had an enormous head start. It identified the potentials of the nascent tech early, and rapidly transformed it from self-built radio models and cheap plastic trash that got stuck in trees, to the bridge mapping, burger delivering, defibrilator transporting, and hostage intervention police tools of today. 

But another reason apparently lies with US companies having been unable to use the considerable capital or engineering talent at their disposal to attain the results DJI has. It’s hard to say why that’s been the case, but that’s been the unsatisfactory result (at least according to sales) of what the Journal says was “a total of around $2.5 billion in venture-capital funding in the past two years” flowing to American UAV tech startups. 

Perhaps just as damagingly, however, is those apolitical US businesses have been further burdened by government policies. Many of those have increasingly tightened bans or raised tariffs on Chinese tech components as the bad relations between the two nations have turned awful, and now foul. While the security concerns of some of those import prohibitions are understandable, others have been excessive, motivated by desires to carve out larger markets for American companies. That has clearly been counter-productive to firms building craft for defense purposes – whether in Ukraine, or by US militaries.

“The Defense Department has imposed strict requirements on drone manufacturers, including a ban of Chinese components, which has made it more expensive and harder to build small drones,” American UAV executives told the Journal. “US restrictions on drone parts and testing limit what they can build and how fast.”

The disappointing, at times dysfunctional result, the Journal said, is that “DJI has proven to be the go-to drone brand for Ukraine’s military.”

Which brings up another contradiction among the many in the logic of US politicians trying to impose a ban on all DJI drone use in the country: Why hasn’t the supposed habitual leaking of user data from company craft to spies in China been a factor in Ukraine’s existential struggle with Beijing ally, Russia?

Indeed, with DJI drones being both the default and preferred option over US models in Ukraine, why haven’t those UAVs been leaking the same massive stores of user data that would allow Moscow’s forces to identify, locate, and massacre enemy operators systematically? Is Putin ignoring Beijing’s data flows, and showing mercy to forces flying FPV craft turning his tanks into wind chimes?

If, as one federal official claimed, DJI drones are even leaking American users’ heart rates among the other US personal, professional, and critical infrastructure data to Beijing, why is the tech holding its guts when operated in combat scenarios by the Ukraine enemy of China’s friend?

Don’t expect that kind of logic to undermine the determination of blacklist-bent US politicians, whose evident tech ignorance in advocating their DJI bans will also blind them to weaknesses they are exposing the country’s defenses to. 

Because if American UAVs built under US bans on Chinese components are proving expensive yet unsatisfactory in Ukraine, how will they perform for the US military buying them as “trusted” assets? And how will that spin forward in domestic security terms as the Pentagon pushes ahead with its “Replicator” program, replacing massive existing weapons programs with small UAV swarm capabilities using entirely domestic craft? It’s kind of a scary thought.

Meanwhile, what do those questions also say about the protectionist, politically motivated efforts of national and state legislators who have banned DJI drones for official uses – and now want to prevent US companies and leisure pilots from flying them as well? It’s already clear from the explanations of their objectives that most, if not all, of these officials are tech simpletons; are they also so generally unintelligent to be unable to draw on the lessons from Ukraine, and extend those to the US defense scenarios now looming on the horizon? Or does that my-lobbist-first, country-second explain their actions in the first place?

None of that, however, means disappointing US small drone performance in Ukraine up until now won’t improve. There’s also nothing that says American companies won’t improve their output, and start winning back DJI’s commanding market share under free competition rules. But they’ll have no incentive to up their game if politicians rig it for them – a yearning that could grow even stronger among legislators interpreting results in Ukraine to indicate even heavier-handed protectionism is urgent.

Indeed, BRINC CEO Blake Resnick warns against using those performances in Ukraine as a definitive measuring stick of the wider abilities of a drone or its manufacturer. Though its LEMUR UAVs have been donated for operation in the country, Resnick also thinks it’s a mistake for that conflict to be exploited or interpreted as a potential business opening. Even DJI has repeatedly said it opposes the craft it produces for work and leisure being deployed in war zones.

“Is this a huge opportunity for American drone companies in general?” Resnick asked in the Journal.“I’m not sure.”

Skydio CEO Adam Bry doesn’t seem agree, and believes the company’s highly-touted new X10 drone must prove its mettle in ways the UAVs it conceived and built before the Ukraine conflict began have not be able, and in many ways weren’t designed to.

“It is critical for Skydio, and I think the US drone industry at large, that we make X10 succeed at scale on the battlefield in Ukraine,” Bry told the daily. “There’s no alternative. As a country, we can’t miss on this.”

But as a nation, the US also can’t afford to ban the preferred, dominating DJI “alternative” that millions of companies and individuals already rely on, and are productive and happy with. That doesn’t mean those operators won’t eventually shift to American craft once they become technically and financially competitive. But that can only come from US producers improving themselves.

Such improvement isn’t going to be the result of tech ignorant politicians placing their career and fund-raising interests ahead of actual national security. Nor will it issue from brazenly protectionist initiatives that actually weaken the incentive of American drone makers to put failing performance in Ukraine to the service of creating better UAVs for US companies, consumers, and armed forces that don’t now look to DJI as the logical, albeit increasingly unavailable choice.


No comments so far.

Latest Posts

Intel Stock Drops as Foundry Flounders

Intel Stock Drops as Foundry Flounders

Once a revered U.Schipmaker, Intel (NASDAQ:INTC) is now the target of widespread skepticism and occasionally even mockery
Read more
New Partnership Could be Sweet for Krispy Kreme

New Partnership Could be Sweet for Krispy Kreme

Doughnut maker Krispy Kreme (NASDAQ:DNUT) knows how to capitalize on a marketing opportunity. Just in time for the solar eclipse … Read more
Read more
Unlocking Factoring Potential:  Why American Receivable Stands Out as the Best Factoring Company 

Metalacker Tennenbronn 2024: haben diverse Bands bestätigt

Metalacker Tennenbronn 2024: haben diverse Bands bestätigt

Das Metalacker Open Air Tennenbronn ist ein kleines Festival auf einem Acker mitten im Schwarzwald und wurde 2012 das erste Mal ins Leben gerufen
Read more
Alice Walton Net Worth: Exploring Walmart Heiress’ Fortune

Alice Walton Net Worth: Exploring Walmart Heiress’ Fortune

Alice Walton has an estimated net worth of $68 billion. As of 2022, she was the 19th-richest person and the … Read more
Read more
Black Mask (1996) – Eureka

Black Mask (1996) – Eureka

David Brook reviews Daniel Lee’s action packed sci-fi superhero movie, starring Jet LiIt’s being released on Blu-ray by Eureka Classics.
Read more