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The Blue UAS ProgramEverything You Need to Know
With the concerns of chinese cyber security concerns, there has been a lot of confusion on what products DOD and Federal Government can buy. To help with this the Defense Innovation Unite (DIU) has been working both hardward/ software providers to come up with a US DOD standard to lower costs and Integrators to provide standard products for the GSA and fedreal market. This is what they call Blue UAS (also known as Blue sUAS) program.
Over the last two years, this has been among the main topics of interest in the U.S drone industry.
So, has the Blue UAS program influenced the drone ecosystem in the U.S positively or negatively? We’ll find this out shortly, but first, let’s dissect the program’s contents.
What is Blue UAS?
The Blue UAS program is a set of standards and best practices that the U.S Department of Defense (DOD) and other Federal Government agencies are encouraged to use when procuring small Unmanned Aerial Systems (sUAS). The standards cover four main areas:
IN August 202, the Department of Defense (DoD) released a list of five drones recommended for use by the U.S. government.
These five were an improvement on the five Short Range Reconnaissance (SRR) UAVs.
DIU was used to develop and set selection criteria
The Blue UAS pilot project’s name later evolved to Blue UAS 1.0 after DIU unveiled the second phase.
However sortly after presenting this to federal agencies like FEMA and USGS, it became clear SRR was not everything needed. A class of larger utility drones were also needed.
In October 2021, the DoD released the second list known as Blue UAS 2.0. The list’s contents were slightly different from Blue UAS 1.0.
The Lifecycle of Blue UAS
Five vital steps are involved in clearing a drone for federal usage.
1. Blue UAS Framework
Component and software development takes place during this step. The DIU provides valuable input to the listed companies to ensure the end product meets their criteria.
The Blue UAS foundry is DIU’s prototyping process. Design teams experiment with various ideas from the federal user’s “suggestion box” to create a final product that caters to their unique needs.
It’s a more effective drone approval process. The streamlined vetting process represents the “ready for take-off” phase as it paves the way for the availability of robust and secure commercial UAS for government procurement.
4. Blue UAS Cleared List
It contains a list of NDAA-compliant drones certified for use during military operations.
The best part about the list is that it’s not fixed, as it’s regularly updated. The listed drones help the government save on costs and time by providing regularly updated acquisition guidelines.
Blue UAS hub houses all the relevant information on the program for the relevant stakeholders to use as reference.
Unpopular opinion- the Blue UAS program is a pathfinder for new prototyping, acquisition, and vetting processes. The program’s purpose is far from wanting to gate-keep the market share but aims to ease the acquisition process for federal partners who require their sUAS to:
- Be compliant with the law.
- Be thoroughly cyber-assessed to spot cyber vulnerabilities.
- Have appropriate administrative documentation.
So, what’s the difference between these two Cleared Lists? We’ll figure this out in the following category.
What is the difference between Blue UAS 1.0 vs. Blue UAS 2.0
The main difference is that the program’s first round only listed particular drones, whereas the Blue UAS 2.0 only listed vendors approved to sell to federal agencies.
The five drones that made it to the cleared list in the first round include:
- Altavian M440 Ion
- Parrot ANAFI USA
- Skydio X2-D
- Teal Golden Eagle
- Vantage Robotics Vesper
The eleven Blue UAS 2.0 vendors that made it to the cleared list include:
- Ascent AeroSystems
- BlueHalo LLC
- Easy Aerial Inc.
- FlightWave Aerospace Systems Corporation
- Freefly Systems East
- Harris Aerial
- Inspired Flight Technologies Inc.
- senseFly Inc
- Skydio, Inc.
- Vision Aerial
- Wingtra AG
This is a dynamic list that will be reroutinely updated as more products come to market. These lists were designed to help the federal government with procurrment and aligning with cybersecurity concerns. They are not an indicator of non-Blue UAS quality. Which has been confusing for states that are starting to band Chinese made drones like DJI.
So, where does that leave the non-listed vendors like MODUS Airlift drone series?
Blue UAS: The Future of Non-listed Drone Vendors
In 2017’s ban on DJI drones highlighted the lack of competitiveness for the US drone industry. The ban caused difficulty in army, Pentagon and U.S Department of Interior operations.
Sourcing for alternatives was no easy feat, and DIU leveraged that opportunity to provide National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) compliant drones for federal agencies.
The NDAA terminated federal use of DJI drones after their classified report raised concerns about cybersecurity. However, the manufacturer claimed that DJI drones don’t contain any cyber vulnerabilities.
In 2022 state governments have started to follow federal example. Florida was the first. In May 2022 state of California also banded the purchase of chinese drones for state use. MODUS expects this trend to continue by all the states over the next 18 months. We also see utility and other companies funded by federal and state money to set restrictions on their service providers to align with the federal policy.
The Department of Defense’s push for more local drone production doesn’t mean they are not open to international partnerships. Parrot is a French company, after all..
One of the most notable parts of the legislation is that there are no additional requirements for foreign or US vendors, even if they are non-listed.
Their non-listed status is not a deterrent factor, as any vendor can still sell drones to the government. It’s only that the procurement won’t be as seamless, whereas other entities prefer using drones from the Blue UAS Cleared List.
The Department of Defense has confirmed that they are in the process of implementing a more inclusive system which would allow smaller companies to compete with larger ones. This will give more vendors a slice of the military’s big budget.
Non-listed vendors, like MODUS, have also voiced their support for accelerating the on-boarding process. Some people have suggested that self-funded projects like this one are viable options, too.
DIU project managers seem receptive to the idea, but they will have to come up with a policy and funding structure first. MODUS remains optimistic that either DIU will become a certifying entity or pass the responsivity to the DOT to manage for commercial entities. This is very similar to what exists today in commercial aircraft with an airworthiness certification.
What’s Best for Your Drone Program?
This is one of several articles we are writing so help managers navigate the confusing world of drone regulations.
Here is some general advice we give all our clients.
- who do you do work for? if you are a private engineering firm that does its own work internal or you are B2B, then we feel the DJI drones will serve you well for the next few years. They area very well designed and a mature product for the price. Even if you think you might have state or federal work, it is better to buy another drone when you have the work instead of carrying the extra expense. US drones are 3x more expensive than their chinese counterparts.
- If you do need a US made drone, come talk to one of our specialists. MODUS is drone agnostic, and sell a wide range of drones to match the customers needs. We have been in the industry for over 20 years.
- What is your carrying requirements? This is a real concern. As DJI specializes its Enterprise drones to work with more specific sensors and end of life some of their heavy lift drones without replacement, it will be important to find alternatives, such as heavy lift multirotors and electric helicopter systems.
- Communication flexibility. When you go with a local US system, you may have the option of using different FCC compliant signals. If you are going to operating around an urban environment is it is better to have a system that does not use 2.4 and 5.8 Ghz signals as they match all the house and infrastructure wifi frequencies. Also in urban areas some frequencies can be broadcast at higher power levels, giving you more range.
- Portability. This is often overlooked but can save you quite a bit in Mobilization costs. The lighter the drones and smaller the drone folds up will saving you in shipping or air travel.
Do you have questions about Blue UAS or NDAA compliant drones?
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