This spring sprung two newcomers to the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) Defense Innovation Unit’s (DIU) Blue UAS Cleared list. Drones from Washington-based Freefly Systems, and Kansas-based AgEagle Aerial Systems both scored approvals on the list this spring.
A spot on the Blue UAS list indicates that drone has been vetted through an intensive onramp process. Drones with Blue sUAS Cleared status have met criteria developed by the DoD for U.S. government procurement, and have gone through many testing, evaluation, and demonstration programs. Among those: a cyber-security evaluation, a policy compliance check, and receiving of necessary administrative documentation.
The Blue UAS Cleared List provides a common DoD approval standard that can save the U.S. Government time and money, inform acquisition policy updates, and increase access to commercial technology.
The DoD (and other federal partners) are only supposed to use approved drones on the list. Some private companies — particularly those that fly for government contracts — choose specifically to only fly drones on the Blue UAS Cleared list.
With this news, that means entities have two new drones to choose from as of this spring: the Freefly Alta X and the Sensefly eBee TAC.
Now, the eight drones on the DIU’s Blue UAS Cleared list are:
- Freefly Alta X
- Sensefly eBee TAC
- Skydio X2D
- FLIR ION M440
- Parrot Anafi USA GOV
- Parrot Anafi USA MIL
- Teal Golden Eagle
- Vantage Robotics Vesper
And while there are eight drones listed above, many more companies are working to build drones that will ultimately earn a spot on the Blue sUAS Cleared List. There are 11 companies, in fact, that are close.
That’s due to an agreement issued in October 2021 with 11 non-traditional vendors to participate in what’s called the Blue sUAS 2.0 pilot program, which iterates on earlier Blue sUAS programs. (DIU’s initial Blue sUAS project, now referred to as “1.0,” was announced in August 2020.) The program was set up to create a fairly easy path for companies to prototype their approval processes for drones — and in turn increasing the number of drones available to the Department of Defense. Specifically, the DoD is looking for drones capable of tasks like infrastructure inspection, mapping and public safety.
What to know about the new drones on the Blue sUAS Cleared List
The most recent drone to be approved is the Freefly Alta X, which is Freefly Systems’ sixth-generation of drones designed to fly in tough environments. They’re designed and manufactured in the U.S., and are designed for a range of missions. Notable capabilities include:
- Open architecture
- Up to 35 lbs of usable payload capacity.
- Ability to fly a variety of integrated sensors and third-party payloads including gimbaled EO/IR, survey grade RTK/PPK mapping cameras, LiDAR, hyperspectral sensors, and drop/delivery capabilities.
- Portability, thanks to its ability to folds down to half its deployed size.
Just before that, in March, the eBee TAC Unmanned Aerial System (UAS), pioneered by senseFly was approved. The eBee was actually the first approved drone to join the DIU Blue UAS Cleared List specifically as part of Blue sUAS 2.0, and it’s designed for government and military mapping and mission planning applications.
SenseFly has been building drones for about a decade, and the eBee line can claim the title as best selling commercial fixed wing UAS in the U.S. over the past three consecutive years, according to FAA data. Among its highlights:
- The eBee TAC operates in disconnected environments, providing a higher accuracy mobile solution to map and locally share aerial imagery data on rapidly changing field conditions to analyze and provide near real-time situational awareness to ground forces
- Weighs 3.5 pounds
- Features a digital camouflage skin for increased stealth
- Up to 90 minutes flight time
- Can be rapidly deployed — from assembly to hand-launch — in three minutes by a single user to generate 3D modeling, terrain and thermal maps
- AES256-bit encryption
What to know about getting a spot on the Blue sUAS Cleared List
Most of the companies in the Blue sUAS program have reported that sales have increased, likely attributable to their newfound status (and the fact that they together have cornered the market amongst many customers).
“The eBee TAC is ideally positioned to become an in-demand, mission critical tool for the U.S. military, government and civil agencies and our allies worldwide,” Barrett Mooney, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of AgEagle said. “We expect this to be a major growth catalyst for AgEagle in 2022, positively impacting our financial performance in the years ahead as AgEagle solidifies itself as the go-to source for high performing, state-of-the-art full stack drone solutions that get the job done.”
And while the Blue UAS program is not an exclusive path for government validation of UAS, it is considered to be the most efficient method available for commercial systems. What’s more, policy-compliant commercial drones — once vetted by the Blue UAS On-Ramp effort — do not require a continuous exception to DoD policy renewal, reducing the administrative burden on end users.
Both government workers and drone companies seem to support the symbiotic nature of the Blue UAS Cleared List.
“The Blue UAS Cleared List will provide a common approval standard that can save the Services time and money, inform acquisition policy updates, and make it easier for troops to gain access to previously inaccessible commercial tech,” said Capt. Shelby Ochs, DIU program manager for Blue UAS. “Blue sUAS 2.0 vendors have been great partners while we prototype this new process for commercial-off-the-shelf sUAS.”