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The tentacles of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) are creeping into an increasing number of U.S. industries in China’s coordinated campaign to infiltrate critical industries to the U.S. economy.
The evidence is clear. The CCP views theft of U.S. intellectual property as “a strategic resource,” and China remains the largest source of counterfeit and pirated goods in the world. Chinese companies are building electric vehicle (EV) battery plants near key U.S. military installations, and China still controls the global chips market despite investments in U.S. production. China is also flexing its dominance of the rare earth sector in retaliation for U.S. trade policy, and China is in talks to create a new military facility just miles from the American homeland.
This is the reality we are in. China will continue to engage in an aggressive campaign to take over more American industries and dump their way into the U.S. market.
The next front of this campaign is uncrewed aerial vehicles (UAVs), commonly known as drones. Thanks to nearly a decade of CCP support, Chinese drone-makers have flooded global markets with cheap, subsidized drones. By some accounts, Chinese-made drones account for more than 90 percent of the U.S. consumer drone market, more than 70 percent of the drones used as industrial tools, and a majority of drones used by first responders.
Simply put: This Chinese drone dumping is a direct threat to our national security.
The U.S. founded the aviation industry and is the world leader in aviation. Chinese drone dumping presents a challenge not only to U.S. competitiveness, but more importantly, to our national security. The CCP’s National Intelligence Law of 2017 compels the country’s drone companies to provide information they gather to the government, including data such as flight logs, and a U.S. Homeland Security Intelligence bulletin indicated that China had used data from Chinese drone-maker DJI for targeting assets.
Here in the U.S., Chinese-made drones are used by local fire and police departments to map wildfires and improve public safety and to record data on critical infrastructure, such as transmission lines, power plants, roads, bridges, airports, and hospitals. They are also used by key federal government agencies for a variety of purposes. Think about that intel in the wrong hands.
The good news is that there is a long list of policies and regulations that could be implemented now to ensure our intel and our domestic industries are protected. The Biden administration and Congress need to act to both reduce the threat posed by Chinese-made drones and encourage development of the domestic drone industry.
Manufacturing tax credits, for example, would incentivize domestic drone production, in the same way that legislation has for semiconductors and other technologies. Loan guarantees to drone and component manufacturers would promote competition, and targeted legislation could help ensure the domestic availability of critical minerals necessary for UAS manufacturing.
The U.S. Government should also consider federal grants for first responders, infrastructure inspection, and Department of Defense (DoD) programs. Since a majority of U.S. first responders currently use Chinese-made drones, Congress should establish a well-funded program aiding these agencies in transitioning to American drone systems.
We are a country of innovation, and there is an opportunity to incentivize U.S.-made drone adoption in infrastructure assessments, allocating hundreds of millions of dollars for critical infrastructure inspection with U.S.-made drones and supporting workforce development in aviation through partnerships with educational institutions. Some domestic drone companies are manufacturing at scale, and others are standing at the ready and willing to ramp up their manufacturing to provide our federal, state, local, and tribal stakeholders with secure and capable American-made drone alternatives.
Recognizing the strategic importance of uncrewed systems in warfare, the DoD should collaborate with industry to navigate procurement challenges. By designating drones and components as a critical technology, we can secure investments in this area.
Finally, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) must also take steps to streamline the integration of drones into airspace by enabling regulations. Additionally, the FAA should help foster cybersecurity governance through industry standards, to enable the highest standards of drone cybersecurity control assessments and vulnerability and penetration tests possible. Congress should work with both the FAA and industry on the necessary tools, authorities, and resources they need to accomplish this effort.
Chinese aggression in the drone space has the potential to threaten U.S. national security and economic power, but the solutions are within our control if we choose to act. Now is the time for the Biden administration and Congress to do just that.