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China’s drones are its greatest weapon in today’s information warfare 

I have spent my career studying and mitigating threats from our nation’s most significant adversaries, and it is clear to me that the growing threat posed by Chinese drones is serious and underestimated.

I could not be more pleased to see Members of Congress working together across party lines to rid the United States of these dangerous products. In my decades of public service, including as Deputy Homeland Security Advisor at the National Security Council and Director of Cybersecurity at the National Security Agency, I recognize an imminent threat to our nation when I see one. Chinese drones are one of the most significant intelligence and national security threats facing our country today.

When it comes to national security, drones have changed the game.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine demonstrated the wide-ranging and extraordinary capabilities of both large and small drones. The world woke up to the power of these incredible technologies. From the early days of the war, drones played a vital role as intelligence collectors, powerful reconnaissance aircraft for artillery, and were essential in tracking enemy movements.

Drone technology has rapidly evolved to become an ultra-precise explosive delivery system in its own right. Ukraine has made major innovations in its use of drones, including replacing artillery and mortars and using drone footage for real-time intelligence operations. Never the Same.

Today, drones It’s ubiquitous in conflict zones. Around the world. They were part of a barrage that Iran fired at Israel in April. They have violated South Korean airspace. Both sides in Sudan’s ongoing civil war have deployed them. Houthi rebels have attached bombs to drones as a threat to shipping in the Red Sea.

That’s why it’s a problem that China currently dominates the drone market, and companies like Da Jiang Innovations, which is owned by the Department of Defense, dominate it. It is regarded Chinese military company) and Autel Robotics More than half They account for 10% of global sales. China is rapidly improving both the capabilities of these drones and the national capacity to manufacture them. Without a reliable, independent supply chain, we will continue to fall behind.

This year, the U.S. government Prepositioning cyber attack capabilities While American companies and hobbyists are legally using Chinese-made drones to photograph and map our critical infrastructure, the data they collect remains at risk of being used by China to prepare for conflict.

China’s strict military-civilian fusion data-sharing requirements mean there is no separation between Chinese companies and the Chinese Communist Party, especially companies like Da Jiang Innovations. receive They are funded directly by the Chinese government, and all the information these drones collect is available to Chinese intelligence agencies upon request.

Make no mistake: The Chinese Communist Party is using its industry for its own gain.

In 2017, customs officials Accused In 2022, lawmakers launched a series of investigations into Da Jean Innovations, which they say leaked classified information about the U.S. infrastructure. Classified Briefing According to reports, hundreds of drones were found to have entered restricted airspace over Washington, D.C., including near the White House and the Pentagon.

Later, in January 2024, the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency and the FBI reported that China had “enacted legislation that expands the legal basis for Chinese companies to access and control data” and that “China-made [unmanned aerial systems] There is a risk of confidential information being leaked when operating critical infrastructure. [Chinese] authorities. ”

The risks grow as more U.S. companies incorporate drones into their daily operations, particularly in sectors like construction, communications and transportation.

Companies can’t just inspect a drone’s software to ensure it’s not phoning away to Beijing: As the agency notes, “updates controlled by Chinese companies could introduce unknown data collection and transmission capabilities without users’ knowledge.” It only takes a few keystrokes to turn a harmless drone into a highly effective spy device.

Moreover, Beijing has detailed control over what is collected and where and how it is stored, which is a major advantage for China, even if the data they want is not sent to China in the first place.

Congress enacted significant restrictions on the use of Chinese-made drones in the National Defense Authorization Act of 2024. After December 2025, federal funds will no longer be able to be used to purchase drones made in China, Russia, Iran or North Korea, or drones that use certain parts manufactured in those countries.

While this is a good start to solving supply chain issues, it does not go far enough to address the current risks posed by the supply chain.

Thankfully, Democratic and Republican lawmakers are once again coming together to solve this problem.

Bipartisan China’s Communist Party’s Anti-Drone LawA bill under consideration in the House of Representatives would ban any future licensing of Da Jiang Innovations’ technology for use in U.S. communications infrastructure.

Republican New York State Rep. Elise Stefanik It’s called a bill “It’s a victory for America’s national security and for the American people whose data and critical infrastructure have been collected and surveilled by our Communist Chinese adversary.” The bill was also praised by Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-IL), who said it would “protect America’s communications equipment and strengthen America’s supply chains.” For these reasons, the bill now has an impressive list of Democratic and Republican cosponsors.

Keeping our nation safe for the coming decades will require us to develop our own military technologies and tactics while advancing the art of drone warfare. But it also means being aware of the threat of drone espionage. In wartime, we would not willingly cede air superiority to our arch rival, and we shouldn’t do so in peacetime, either.

I commend the lawmakers for their wisdom and foresight in introducing and advancing this bill, which will make us all better off.

Rob Joyce is a cybersecurity leader with over 34 years of intelligence community experience, having previously served as Deputy Homeland Security Advisor and Special Assistant to the President on the National Security Council, and as Director of Cybersecurity at the National Security Agency. 

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