US DoD seeks to boost small drone industry
A new Pentagon initiative is aiming to stimulate the development of a domestic SUAS industry to rival China’s DJI, the world’s leading provider of such drones.
The effort will be the initial focus of the US DoD’s new Trusted Capital Marketplace (TCM) programme, which will bring together venture capitalists and cash-seeking industry representatives. An event focused on SUAS is slated to occur in October, according to Ellen Lord, Pentagon acquisition chief.
While DJI’s low-cost, sophisticated drones have allowed the company to gain dominance in the commercial market, US defence officials are wary of using them for intelligence-gathering missions, fearing the drones could send sensitive information to China. The officials believe that creating a robust domestic SUAS sector would fix that problem.
US companies that make SUAS for the military could sell simpler versions commercially, strengthening the business case for a domestic industry, according to Lord.
‘What we would like to have are US designers and manufacturers of small UAS, because not only do we have a need for that in the Department of Defense, we know it's a very, very large commercial industry,’ she said. ‘So we think that we can catalyze that activity and have a safe and secure supply.’
While DoD might invest ‘a little bit’ of money in SUAS firms to help them get off the ground, Lord expects that most of the funding will come from outside government.
DoD has developed a list of other technology areas that the TCM will pursue. It hopes to host a second TCM event in January and then hold such events ‘every couple of months,’ Lord said.
DoD initially planned to set up a ‘complicated, expensive website’ for the programme but concluded that face-to-face meetings would be more effective, she explained.
Lord also revealed that all 900-plus parts that Turkey supplied for the F-35 fighter jet programme will be made in the US instead, at least initially. Other countries might eventually be able to compete to produce those parts. Turkey was recently removed from the programme due to its controversial purchase of Russia’s S-400 surface-to-air missile system.
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