A Chinese Firm Is America’s Favorite Drone Maker — Except in Washington

The drones circled over the caves and crevices scattered around the mountain trails in northern Utah, feeding real-time video back to a search team on the ground looking for a missing hiker. Nineteen minutes later, they had her coordinates, bringing the rescue — a drill — closer to conclusion.

“In this kind of environment, that’s actually pretty quick,” said Kyle Nordfors, a volunteer search and rescue worker. He was operating one of the drones, made by the Chinese company DJI, which dominates sales to law enforcement agencies as well as the hobbyist market in the United States.

But if DJI’s drones are the tool of choice for emergency responders around the country, they are widely seen in Washington as a national security threat.

DJI is on a Defense Department list of Chinese military companies whose products the U.S. armed forces will be prohibited from purchasing in the future. As part of the defense budget that Congress passed for this year, other federal agencies and programs are likely to be prohibited from purchasing DJI drones as well.

The drones — though not designed or authorized for combat use — have also become ubiquitous in Russia’s war against Ukraine.

Launching a DJI drone in the Donetsk region of Ukraine in March 2023.Credit…Tyler Hicks/The New York Times
Commercially available DJI drones have been widely used throughout Ukraine’s war with Russia.Credit…David Guttenfelder for The New York Times
Back to top button