Ernst, bipartisan group of senators denounce use of U.S. tech in Chinese drones

The U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) should prevent American technology from equipping Chinese-backed drones, according to a bipartisan letter led by U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA).

Specifically, Sen. Ernst and a bipartisan contingent of 14 senators expressed concerns that U.S. companies are exporting critical technology to Da Jiang Innovations (DJI), a Chinese drone company that aids America’s adversaries in carrying out attacks on U.S. allies.

DJI is also on the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Entity List because it facilitated widespread human rights abuses in the People’s Republic of China to surveil and monitor Chineses Communist Party (CCP) detention camps in Xinjiang, according to their Dec. 18 letter sent to U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin.

“This listing recognizes that DJI actively works against America’s national security interests,” wrote the senators, “and the issuance of export control licenses to DJI should be prohibited to ensure it cannot benefit from American innovation and ingenuity.”

Currently, according to Sen. Ernst and her colleagues, DJI is listed as a subject to a “presumption of denial” licensing policy.

“But it has come to our attention that DJI’s drones likely still contain critical components from American companies, just as they did prior to DJI being listed,” they wrote.

DOD should not be recommending approval of export control licenses for U.S. tech that advances DJI’s capabilities, which are being leveraged by American adversaries “in attacks against our allies and partners, from Eastern Europe to Israel,” wrote the senators.

They also pointed out that DJI aids Iran-backed Hamas and Russia in carrying out attacks, facilitating human rights abuses of the Uyghurs, and supporting the CCP military.

“When an American company applies to export to a company on the Entity List, such as DJI, the DOD has the specific responsibility to examine the potential national security risks of that proposed export,” Sen. Ernst and her colleagues wrote.

Toward that goal, the senators requested clarification on whether the DOD supported the export of U.S. technologies that have enabled DJI to assist the CCP in repressing the Uyghur population and equipping Iranian-backed Hamas and Russian military forces with drones.

They also requested that Secretary Austin answer several questions about whether DOD would allow for the export of U.S. technology or intellectual property to DJI, if DOD raised any national security concerns related to any issued licenses, how far up these decisions were reviewed, and if anyone had concerns about this export, according to their letter.

“The Entity List is intended to prohibit American companies from exporting technology that will enable our adversaries to advance their ability to undermine U.S. national security,” wrote Sen. Ernst and the lawmakers. “However, America’s adversaries are using DJI drones that contain American cutting-edge technology to harm U.S. national security interests and the security of U.S. partners.”

Among the 14 lawmakers who also signed the letter were U.S. Sens. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), Todd Young (R-IN), and Jimmy Panetta (D-CA).