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Government Use of Unmanned Technology

It’s not just the Department of Defense using drones anymore, agencies throughout the U.S. and State governments are interested in the using unmanned technology for scientific research, enhanced security, situational awareness, service offerings and other uses. Of course, any purchase by the government is subject to a host of restrictions and regulations.

After piece-meal restrictions and regulations targeting foreign manufacturers and instruments from foreign countries, the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) FY 2020, Section 848, established an initial framework for prohibiting the U.S. government from operating or procuring foreign-made unmanned aircraft technology. While initially focused on China or Russia, in January 2021 Executive Order 13981, “Protecting the United States from Certain Unmanned Aircraft Systems,” outlined specific requirements for security compliance and restricted manufacturing of critical drone components from a growing list of adversarial countries and entities.

Saying a product is “Made in the USA” may create an advantage when marketing to the public, and comes with its own FTC regulations, but the U.S. Government requires unmanned technologies to be “NDAA compliant”, an often-used term to describe the growing drone use regulations required by the government. Further, to streamline the Multiple Award Schedule contract process, the General Services Administration maintains a short-list of approved done manufactures (the Blue sUAS list) who are considered secure enough from broad military use. Exceptions may be provided, however, after extensive documentation and cybersecurity evaluations are performed. On January 19, 2023 the Blue sUAS list was expanded to include 10 new systems as part of a Blue UAS 2.0 pilot program.

States are following the federal government's lead, with many considering enacting legislation for state agencies to only use Blue sUAS list or NDAA compliant systems. Each state is wrestling with how this may affect legacy systems being used by law enforcement, public works and other state and local agencies.

Some unmanned technology providers have been left off the Blue list, even though they are NDAA compliant, which can have a significant impact on a company’s sales and opportunities. Drone and other unmanned businesses are encouraged to reach out to Michael Best’s Unmanned Technology group for legal, business and government relations assistance. Our team is constantly monitoring this changing landscape and working with our clients on ensuring compliance, qualifying for procurement opportunities, and collaborating on innovative products and processes. Contact the authors to learn more about how we can help, or to receive periodic updates on insights important to your business.


unmanned, autonomous, regulatory, defense, marketing, strategies