Blue UAS: Setting the Record Straight Surrounding Public Safety Drones


Back when I was in U.S. Coast Guard public affairs training there was a simple rule the instructors impressed upon us from the very first day; “if you did it, or if you are responsible for it, then you can talk about it.”


That basic precept governs Coast Guard public affairs policy. If you are the commander of a unit, or if you were directly involved in a mission of media interest, then you have the authority to speak to the media about the operation in which the unit participated in. This prevented errors and misinformation from being communicated by people who had no authority in speaking for the unit, nor direct involvement in the mission.


And it was because of that training that I was moved to act after watching multiple self-proclaimed public safety drone “experts” continue to misstate facts surrounding the Blue UAS program during the past several months.


The concept of Blue UAS has emerged as one of the hottest topics impacting the U.S. drone industry over the past several years. Originally perceived by the drone industry largely as an interesting concept, Blue UAS has now emerged as the Holy Grail for many drone manufacturers and solutions providers who want to sell their products to Federal agencies – and beyond. However, few people have an accurate understanding of what the Blue UAS program really is, how it originated, and where it is heading. Because of this lack of clarity, misconceptions and misinformation have flooded the marketplace.


To help set the record straight surrounding Blue UAS, I decided to hold a live webinar with some of the people directly responsible for the Blue UAS program; program managers from the Defense Innovation Unit (DIU).


DIU is a joint force, cross-Department of Defense (DoD) organization focused exclusively on working with commercial companies to help solve national security problems. The webinar was held on Tuesday, March 22 and featured Shelby Ochs and Dave Richardson, both program managers from DIU’s Autonomy Portfolio, the group which oversees the Blue UAS program.


Ochs, who handled most of the speaking, quickly laid out DIU’s overarching mission which is to accelerate adoption of DoD technology, transform military capacity and capabilities, and strengthen the national security innovation base.


He then provided a summary on the five lines of effort that the DIU’s autonomy innovation unit is currently focused on:

  1. Cleared List: a routinely updated list of DoD approved drones providing options for the evolving mission needs of government users.

  2. On-Ramp: a streamlined approval and vetting process to enable the routing on-boarding of capable, secure commercial UAS into the government marketplace.

  3. Foundry: DIU’s provide Commercial Solutions Opening process is used to rapidly prototype and scale new or existing UAS for unique government customer needs and continued iterative experimentation.

  4. Framework: Interoperable, NDAA compliant UAS components and software that provide options for Government and industry partners. The Framework provides advanced capabilities to sUAS developers and reduces risk for government customers.

  5. Hub: A Government website that provides comprehensive information on Blue UAS resources in one place for industry and government stakeholders.

Ochs says the Blue UAS Cleared List is a DIU owned list that is not intended to be exclusive nor all-encompassing. He says DIU cannot possibly be the clearinghouse for every drone in the marketplace.


Ochs understands that others are leveraging (for various purposes) the work that DIU is undertaking, but stresses that DIU is limited by budget and capacity and is ultimately focused on DoD customers.


Ochs also points out that the work taken to develop the Blue UAS Cleared List is not a secret and could be undertaken by any government agency. The Blue UAS assessment process is relatively straightforward:

  1. Cyber assessment of the system.

  2. Compliance with the law.

  3. Airworthiness authority to operate.

It was at that point that Ochs brought us back to the origin of the Blue UAS program. Short Range Reconnaissance Tranche 1 (SRRT1) was a prototyping project to develop a tactical quadcopter for a new U.S. Army Program of Record. Five manufacturers; Altavian, Parrot, Skydio, Teal, and Vantage Robotics all competed for the contract. DIU vetted all five manufacturers during the project resulting in the creation of what is now referred to as the Blue UAS 1.0 list.


The problem is that all five of these drones were birds of the same feather. They drones were specifically designed based on Army specifications for short range reconnaissance use by boots on the ground. The Blue UAS 1.0 list was never designed to become the end all be all list for government users. That is why you do not see any heavy-lift or wide-area mapping drones on the list.


Ochs said that after the list was released, DIU received feedback from many government users stating that the five Blue UAS 1.0 drones did not answer their specific needs. Which, he reiterates once again, was never the intention of the project.


DIU realizes that the Blue UAS 1.0 list cannot perform every job needed, which is why they launched the Blue UAS 2.0 project to develop the prototyping and on-ramp process for new drone technology to make the cleared list.


And that leads us to the next phase of the Blue UAS project, which will be explored during the DRONERESPONDERS Forum at AUVSI’s XPONENTIAL at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando from April 26-28.


To watch and hear the full DRONERESPONDERS Blue UAS Special Event Webinar, including the extensive question and answer session, please visit blueuaswebinar.droneresponders.org

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