Last year, the US Department of the Interior, which is responsible for maintaining federal land, grounded its fleet of more than 800 drones for fear that drones might be used by Chinese spies . Now, an internal memo leaked to the Financial Times by the department claims that the decision has weakened the federal government’s ability to fight wildfires .
After the drones were grounded, the US Department of the Interior banned the purchase of Chinese drones and drones containing Chinese components. The British “Financial Times” stated that this caused the Ministry of the Interior to cancel its plan to purchase 17 Ignis drones, which are key tools for controlling wildfires.
The leaked memo said that if there were no drones, the department was forced to use manned aircraft to extinguish fires. An internal analysis of the department found that by the end of this year, only 28% of wildfire control will be achieved, and plans to use a new drone fleet to extinguish fires.
According to the Financial Times, the memorandum stated: “[The current fleet of the department] must be expanded to meet the requirements for precautionary measures to reduce wildfires by reducing vegetation.” “Refusing to purchase UAS [drone] aerial fire extinguishing devices directly transfers the risk to firefighters. They must use manned aircraft to complete these tasks instead of using UAS, a safer option.”
The initial decision to ground the Ministry of the Interior’s fleet was part of the Trump administration’s broader measures to restrict Chinese technology. In particular, the UAV market is dominated by the Chinese manufacturer DJI. When the news of the grounding came out last year, the department stated that none of its UAVs only use American parts. IT Home learned that the agency not only uses drones to control wildfires, but also uses drones to survey land and dams and monitor endangered wildlife.
US Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt said last year that the department’s fleet would be grounded until a complete safety review can be conducted. Bernhardt pointed out that in emergencies, including combating natural disasters, drones can still be dispatched, but this rule does not seem to extend to the purchase of new hardware.