The Israeli army will continue to use Chinese-made DJI consumer drones despite the US Army ordering all troops to immediately stop using them, citing operational risks associated with the popular drone, that is also scheduled to be delivered to the IDF this month.
Hundreds of the Mavic and Matrice drones are set to be used by the army’s infantry brigades stationed in the West Bank and in the mixed-gender combat battalions in the Border Defense Corps as part of a multi-million shekel project to give fighters better capabilities against the enemy.
According to the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit, these drones are a “central part of the border defense operations” which assist troops in various missions.
“The IDF takes into account the limitations of the said multirotor drones, and will use them accordingly for unclassified missions,” the statement said, adding that “it should be noted that the IDF is working to develop and acquire multirotor drones without these restrictions.”
In a memo obtained by sUAS News, Lt.-Gen. Joseph H. Anderson, the army’s deputy chief of staff for plans and operations, wrote that troops should “cease all use, uninstall all DJI applications, remove all batteries/storage media from devices, and secure equipment for follow on direction.”
The directive cited research by the US Army Research Lab and US Navy which concluded that the company’s products could be easily compromised by third parties.
“Due to increased awareness of cyber vulnerabilities associated with DJI products, it is directed that the US Army halt use of all DJI products. This guidance applies to all DJI UAS [unmanned aircraft systems] and any system that employs DJI electrical components or software including, but not limited to, flight computers, cameras, radios, batteries, speed controllers, GPS units, handheld control stations, or devices with DJI software applications installed,” the memo read.
The US Army uses drones for a wide variety of missions and DJI “products are the most widely used non-program of record commercial off-the-shelf UAS employed by the army,” the memo continued.
In a statement to sUAS News, DJI public relations manager Michael Perry said that the company was “surprised and disappointed to read reports of the US Army’s unprompted restriction on DJI drones as we were not consulted during their decision. We are happy to work directly with any organization, including the US Army, that has concerns about our management of cyber issues.
“We’ll be reaching out to the US Army to confirm the memo and to understand what is specifically meant by ‘cyber vulnerabilities,’” Perry continued.
Despite the US army pulling DJI equipment from use, every IDF company commander in the ground forces will receive either a Mavic or Matrice DJI multi-rotor drone this month. All commanders set to receive the multi-rotor drone have already undergone weeks of training at the Combat Intelligence Collection Corps’ school, Sayarim, in the South.
The Mavic, which weighs less than two pounds and has a single battery life of up to 20 minutes at a speed of 65km./ hour, can fold up and fit into a pouch. It comes with two flight modes, including “sport,” which allows it to fly at top speed, bank and turn sharply to avoid danger with the help of two front-facing sensors.
Other combat intelligence battalions in the IDF also will receive the larger Matrice four-bladed quadcopter, which has double the battery life of the Mavic; can fly at night; and, at just over five pounds, is considered more robust, which allows it to fly in bad weather.
Both models are not considered combat drones and the Mavic will only be used during the day to help gather intelligence the company commander otherwise would have had only binoculars to rely upon.
While the drones are not military- grade and are not encrypted, “they are an interim solution and worth the risk until we have a military drone,” a senior IDF officer told The Jerusalem Post in June.