RADeCO Inc., a drone manufacturer in Plainfield looking to capitalize on rapidly growing applications of unmanned aerial technology, says it’s outmaneuvered by Chinese rivals propped up by government subsidies.
Sen. Chris Murphy visited the company Tuesday to discuss legislation he’s backing that would bar federal agencies from buying drones from countries identified as national security threats. He cited China and Iran.
Keith Lovendale, president and chief executive officer of RADeCo, said the legislation, which is in the early stages after being sent to a Senate committees, would boost business for his company and others based in the U.S. that are now priced out of the market by Chinese rivals benefiting from support from Beijing.
“It opens doors for companies that do not bid for those jobs,” he said.
However, directing federal agencies to buy drones from U.S. companies is more difficult than it appears because the domestic industry needs to grow.
“My concern is if American companies are ready,” Lovendale said.
Murphy, D-Conn., said public-private partnerships could help bulk up the domestic industry.
“In the U.S., we trust the private sector to create a market, soup to nuts,” he said.
In addition to being undercut on cost — Lovendale said Chinese competitors can sell equipment for half what U.S. companies charge — drone technology also comes with security concerns because information obtained by the Chinese government could be used to conduct physical or cyberattacks against U.S. civilian and military targets.
DJI Technology, a Shenzhen, China-based company that makes the drones facing U.S. criticism, said in July that a report by the U.S. Department of the Interior confirms that its products “can meet the stringent data needs of high-security customers like government agencies and critical infrastructure operators.”
The company did not immediately respond to an email request for comment on the proposed legislation.
Murphy said the Department of Defense is “essentially held hostage to Chinese technology.”
“Chinese drone technology virtually cornered the market in drone technology,” he said.
China and “other adversaries” have used drones to collect sensitive data, Murphy said.
“Instead of rewarding bad actors like China we should be investing in the development of a U.S.-based supply chain that creates jobs and protects our national security,” he said.
Murphy has previously pushed similar legislation. The Senate Appropriations Committee, of which Murphy is a member, approved legislation last year directing the U.S. government to buy domestic-made drones.
The current legislation has bipartisan support. In addition to backing from Murphy and Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., it’s supported by Republican Sens. Marco Rubio and Rick Scott of Florida and Mitt Romney of Utah.
Drones are increasingly used in applications such as agriculture, construction, crime fighting, homeland security, real estate and, in technology applied by RADeCO, detecting radiation at nuclear power plants.
Stephen Singer can be reached at [email protected]
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