The DIU’s Blue UAS initiative is growing trusted sUAS for the DOD and past.


The senseFly eBee TAC is absolutely NDAA-compliant, simply deploys in 3 minutes by hand launch and flies as much as 90 minutes. Photo courtesy of senseFly.

In navy lingo, “blue” denotes pleasant forces and belongings. For unmanned plane techniques, the time period has turn into synonymous with the Defense Innovation Unit (DIU) Blue UAS initiative, and with the 5 corporations’ drones initially stamped as authorized and coverage compliant in addition to cybersecure. That undertaking, a response to coverage and authorized prohibitions on the Department of Defense’s buy and operation of Chinese drones, features a sequence of dynamic subprojects. The newest: DIU Blue sUAS 2.0.

Let’s dive into the historical past, evolution and the best way forward of Blue.


Until 2017, when the U.S. Army first banned Chinese drones, their use was ubiquitous throughout the federal authorities. Based on related cybersecurity issues, the opposite navy providers and several other federal businesses adopted go well with with their very own coverage prohibitions. Some precluded the usage of federal grant funding by exterior entities to function and/or buy Chinese drones. Around the identical time, extra parallel acquisition insurance policies precluded the DOD from buying any industrial off-the-shelf (COTS) drones.

In 2020, Section 848 of the Fiscal Year 2020 National Defense Authorization Act (FY20 NDAA)—“Prohibition on Operation or Procurement of Foreign-Made Unmanned Aircraft Systems”—codified the DOD ban into regulation. It prohibited the secretary of protection from working or procuring UAS and any associated providers and tools from China, together with ones manufactured in or by an entity domiciled in that nation. It additionally barred utilizing: flight controllers, radios, knowledge transmission, units, cameras or gimbals manufactured within the PRC or by an entity domiciled within the PRC; a floor management system (GCS) or working software program developed in China or by an entity domiciled in China; and net- work connectivity or knowledge storage positioned in or administered by an entity domiciled in China. It additionally prohibited the DOD from utilizing a system manufactured in China or by an entity domiciled in China for the detection or identification of UAS and any associated providers and tools.

On January 18, 2021, simply days earlier than departing the White House, former President Donald Trump signed Executive Order (EO) 13981—Protecting the United States from Certain Unmanned Aircraft Systems—which prevented “the usage of taxpayer {dollars} to obtain UAS that current unacceptable dangers and are manufactured by, or comprise software program or essential digital parts from, overseas adversaries, and to encourage the usage of domestically produced UAS.” The EO outlined “adversary nation” as inclusive of North Korea, Iran and Russia, in addition to China, and left the door open for the secretary of commerce so as to add extra nations to the checklist. It required all federal businesses to account for such UAS inside their fleets and stop utilizing them. It directed the Office of Management and Budget to work with company heads to seek out funding to exchange them.

The Biden administration has up to now toed the road on Chinese drones. On September 8, 2021, in response to a DOD information launch, Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks signed into impact up to date steerage (marked as “CUI,” or managed unclassified info) for the procurement and operation of its UAS. The launch particularly referred to as out Da Jiang Innovations (DJI) and said that the coverage allowed the division “…to make the most of fast techno- logical developments of the industrial market whereas concurrently reaffirming the division’s recognition that sure foreign-made industrial UAS pose a transparent and current menace to U.S. nationwide safety. It permits the division to extra freely use commercially developed UAS by higher de- fining a course of for clearing trusted techniques and ensures the division’s continued compliance with Section 848 of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020 and Executive Order 13981…”




In fall 2018, because the preliminary Chinese drone coverage bans have been falling into place, the Army was already engaged in deciding on a single resolution for a cybersecure, rucksack- packable UAS for its formal program of file (POR), Short Range Reconnaissance (SRR). It had already chosen the 5 corporations’ UAS that we now know as Blue sUAS (FLIR ION M440, Parrot ANAFI- USA-Gov/mil, Skydio XD2, Teal Golden Eagle and Vantage Robotics) to supply specifically prototyped/noncommercially accessible drones for this objective.

In the midst of this course of, Congress promulgated Section 848. The draft EO additionally began circulating across the Pentagon. The distributors needed to adapt to make sure their drones have been NDAA-compliant, in addition to cybersafe.

As authorized and government coverage bans turned realities, DIU, the one DOD group targeted completely on fielding and scaling industrial expertise throughout the U.S. navy to assist remedy essential issues, engaged with the 5 corporations already working with the Army’s SRR POR to discover their curiosity in getting permitted to be on the General Services Administration (GSA) Schedule as a cleared procurement possibility.

They all mentioned sure. By September 2020, Blue was born.

And then got here the Blue UAS Framework.


The Blue sUAS undertaking was only the start of a bigger effort for DIU. Next got here the little-known Blue UAS Framework, which sought commercially accessible and legally compliant prototyped UAS parts, equivalent to knowledge hyperlinks, {hardware}, software program, software program sensors and gimbals.

When American and allied producers went to the effectively to create NDAA- compliant UAS, the effectively was dry as a result of adversary nations had cornered the marketplace for some essential supplies and parts. Capt. Shelby Ochs, USMC, co-program supervisor of Blue sUAS 2.0, defined: “We wanted the Lego® bricks, the parts, to make these drones accessible. So DIU put out the decision. Industry answered.”

More than 60% of Blue sUAS included compliant and interoperable “widgets” created underneath this Blue UAS framework from 2019 to 2020. ModalAI’s flight processor, VOXL, is one instance of this tech, which is now additionally commercially accessible. Auterion’s Skynav hand controller and Skynode flight laptop are others.



The Blue Framework and sUAS undertaking have been profitable. As one instance, in help of the Afghanistan evacuation effort, on the request of safety forces at Ramstein Air Force Base, Germany, Redwood City, California-based Skydio despatched a options engineer and 6 techniques for safety and refugee safety operations. According to Ochs, “Just two days after the request got here in, from flash to bang, Skydio deployed, skilled and had our forces operational.”

Building on that success, DIU now focuses on Blue sUAS, model 2.0, on the request of the workplace of the under- secretary of protection for acquisition and sustainment—OUSD(A&S).

Unlike the unique undertaking, which leveraged specifically prototyped UAS, this iteration entails COTS UAS, the coverage of which OUSD(A&S) owns for the DOD. OUSD(A&S) sought to increase alternatives to carry a better number of UAS to the battle, together with bigger ones, with a variety of modalities and capabilities and at totally different value factors. A secondary a part of the undertaking entails an effort to outline a typical normal throughout the DOD for UAS vendor onboarding, the means to speak that normal and a uniform course of to help distributors.

Using its 10 U.S. Code 2371(b) Other Transaction Authority (OTA), DIU pushed out a Commercial Solutions Opening (CSO) and Area of Interest (AOI) request in March 2021 on its web site,, on social media and to its distribution checklist, searching for business proposals. In the 14 days it was listed, DIU obtained greater than 100 responses.

From this group, DIU and its clients chosen 11 corporations, with 14 drones, for Blue sUAS 2.0 RPPs, together with:

  • Ascent AeroSystems
  • BlueHalo
  • Easy Aerial
  • FlightWave Aerospace Systems
  • Freef ly
  • Harris Aerial
  • Inspired Flight
  • senseFly
  • Skydio
  • Vision Aerial
  • Wingtra

From July to September 2021, all distributors signed OTA agreements. From Sept. 14 to 16, a number of of those corporations demonstrated their plane on the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado.

“We picked the Academy as a result of it was the best altitude we may discover for our wants,” famous Sean Anderson, a help contractor for the undertaking and USAFA ’09 grad. “Equally necessary, USAFA had established procedures for UAS flight that we may leverage on brief discover.”

From its perspective, USAFA was joyful to help DIU. Kevin Kenney, USAFA’s small UAS undertaking supervisor, defined: “We have six educational departments, important devoted analysis, in addition to built-in remotely piloted plane operations right here to encourage cadets to turn into leaders of character and RPA pilots. Hosting these demos was per each DIU’s wants and our mission.” DIU offered cadets and college a possibility to have interaction with demo distributors and see static drone shows within the educational constructing the day earlier than flights occurred.

Michael O’Sullivan, head of world advertising and marketing and product administration at senseFly, a Swiss-based firm with 10 years of expertise in making fixed-wing light-weight drones, talked about his pleasure in having this chance to work with the U.S. navy. “Partnering with DIU has been a collaborative and streamlined course of to assist checklist senseFly’s industrial eBee TAC UAV in Blue sUAS 2.0 and supply a safe, trusted medium-range drone mapping resolution and capabilities to the U.S. authorities.” He continued: “The ardour proven by DIU for utilizing confirmed options is excellent. Their approach of working, entrepreneurial spirit, drive for excellence and steerage has made these demonstrations an actual workforce effort.”

Adam Bilmes, director of gross sales and cofounder at Inspired Flight, spoke in regards to the worth of the Blue sUAS 2.0 undertaking. “This course of has been a implausible alternative for Inspired Flight to additional break into the protection ecosystem and generate a stamp of authority from the federal government spectrum.” San Luis Obispo, California-based Inspired Flight is a UAV manufacturing startup with two drones—the IF1200 and the IF750—within the working for Blue sUAS 2.0. “The collaborative course of that the DIU designed to shepherd our techniques via Blue sUAS 2.0 additionally enabled us to keep up give attention to rising our core industrial enterprise round heavy elevate, rugged and safe multirotors, engaging in a variety of mission units.”

The demos efficiently proved the consistency and basic flight efficiency of those dual-use drones on a navy set up and in entrance of navy and authorities sUAS reps throughout setup and prep, mission planning, launch and restoration, flight efficiency, security of flight (e.g., autonomy, geofencing, impediment avoidance). and validation of spec sheet accuracy.


Freefly Alta X, acting at a DIU demo. Photo courtesy of Freefly Alta X.


Next steps for these almost-Blue corporations will contain navigating the DIU and OUSD(A&S) administrative approval processes. Once previous these hurdles, they’ll formally turn into a part of the DIU- cleared checklist of cybersecure and NDAA/ EO-compliant sUAS for presidency.

DIU tasks that the approval timeline for this subsequent tranche of Blue sUAS will permit them to be accessible to the DOD and IA companions that leverage this undertaking no later than the top of the primary quarter 2022.

Will there be a Blue sUAS 3.0? The reply will rely upon company calls for and budgets. Meanwhile, the long run seems vibrant—and blue—for DOD UAS.