Cyber-security Threat Forces US Marine Corps to Ground Quadcopters

  • Our Bureau
  • 02:25 PM, June 19, 2018
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Cyber-security Threat Forces US Marine Corps to Ground Quadcopters
InstantEye Mk-2 Gen5 quadcopter (Image: InstantEye Robotics)

The US Marine Corps has grounded several new, small drones including its ‘Quads for Squads’ amid ban on commercial, off-the-shelf (COTS), Unmanned aerial systems (UAS) by the Pentagon and assessment on the cyber-security.

The USMC has been forced to ground COTS, it has been fielding to infantry units “until the DoD identifies and fields a solution to mitigate known cybersecurity risks,” according to a recent Department of Defense policy memo written by Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick M. Shanahan.

“The DoD Inspector General found that the DoD has not implemented an adequate process to assess cybersecurity risks associated with using commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) Unmanned Aerial Systems,” the memo states.

The USMC has however requested defense officials to exempt eight systems, so as to continue to use and train with drones.

Exemption requests were being drafted and reviewed by senior leaders and for submission to the Office of the Undersecretary of Defense for these systems: Black Hornet 2 and Black Hornet 3, manufactured by FLIR Systems, Inc.; SkyRanger (Aeryon Labs); InstantEye Mk-2 Gen-3 and InstantEye Mk2 Gen-5 (Physical Sciences Inc.); Indago (Lockheed Martin); and DJI Phantom 3 Pro and DJI Phantom 4 Pro (DJI), Capt. Joshua Pena Marine Corps Combat Development Command spokesperson was quoted as saying by USNI news Monday.

The US Navy and Marine Corps had ordered an additional 800 additional 800 InstantEye Mk-2 GEN3-A0 sUAS systems in February this year. The InstantEye family of products includes the Mk-2 GEN4, which is capable of carrying payloads up to 4 pounds; the mid-sized, highly agile Mk-2 GEN3 can carry payloads up to 1.5 pounds; and the palm-sized integrated Mk-2 GEN5, with advanced vehicle-borne computer processing power that will allow the system to adapt to future capability needs.

InstantEye is a centrepiece of the ‘Quads for Squads’ initiative to equip infantry units with high-tech capabilities to make Marines more lethal and effective in a cyber-battle space, including micro and small drones, USNI reported.

But the Pentagon’s decision has forced Marines to stop using InstantEye until it can get the green light from the Pentagon. It’s considered a COTS product, Pena said, and “the system has been grounded.” The ban “also applies to all UAS ground command and control elements including smartphones or tablets with associated software and hardware,” he added.

So far, the first battalions have received 600 of the Marine Corps’ initial buy of 800 Mk-2 Gen-3 drones for the “Quads for Squads,” and the remaining 200 are pending shipment, he said. “The policy has not affected that schedule,” he added.

In suspending all COTS unmanned aerial systems, Shanahan cited a May 14 DoD inspector general finding that “the DoD has not implemented an adequate process to assess cybersecurity risks associated with using COTS UAS.”

Shanahan noted his authority to approve any “requests for exemptions, on a case by case basis, to support urgent needs.” He directed military officials and agencies to report to him within 30 days “to identify and account for all COTS UAS.”

The memo doesn’t indicate what prompted the suspension of the military’s use of drones, which include some popular commercially-available drones sold to consumers and manufactured by US or foreign companies. However, last month, Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., wrote to Defense Secretary James Mattis about “a potential national security threat” in products manufactured by DJI, or Da-Jiang Innovations, a technology company based in China.

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