American drone maker Teal just received a visit from a particularly prominent U.S. politician — and it shows continued interest in the U.S. government’s quest to promote drones that are made in America. That politician was Utah Sen. Mitt Romney, who visited Teal’s Utah factory on Aug. 22.
Republican Senator Romney is co-sponsoring the American Security Drone Act of 2023, a bipartisan bill that would prohibit federal agencies from purchasing drones made by Chinese government-linked countries. The bill’s other sponsors are Sen. Mark Warner [D-VA], Sen. Marco Rubio [R-FL], Sen. Richard Blumenthal [D-CT], Sen. Marsha Blackburn [R-TN], Sen. Christopher Murphy [D-CT], and Sen. Josh Hawley [R-MO].
Teal makes high end drones and related software primarily for military, government and other industrial drone operations. And the Romney visit is a key indicator — thanks to a photo op that featured Romney flying a drone himself — that politicians are serious about promoting American-made drones.
“As the United States faces the growing threat of China, Utah-based companies like Teal Drones are playing key roles in our national security and industrial base,” said Sen. Romney in a prepared statement. “I enjoyed touring their facility in Salt Lake to better understand their manufacturing process and discuss ways to decrease America’s dependence on China for hardware critical to our security.”
American drone companies like Teal have not surprisingly been largely backing the American Security Drone Act of 2023, which would make it impossible for U.S. government agencies to buy drones from major competitors like DJI.
Without competition from Chinese drone makers — which massively dominate the field today — there’d be a larger window for companies like Teal to proliferate. Other Chinese drone giants include Autel which, like DJI, builds drones for commercial use such as the Autel EVO Max 4T as well as camera drones that are targeted at consumers, such as the Autel Evo Lite+. American drone companies have claimed that Chinese government subsidization of companies like DJI and Autel have allowed Chinese drones to flood the global market and undercut American competition.
“In the last 15 years, China has made significant ongoing investments in its domestic drone industry, achieving a near global monopoly in drone manufacturing,” said Brendan Stewart, VP of regulatory affairs at Red Cat, which is the parent company of Teal, in a prepared statement. “With China’s imperial ambitions and alliance with Russia in clear focus, investment in American manufacturing is as urgent of a national security priority as we have seen in decades.”
And with politicians like Romney concerned about national security due to data flow risks between what drones capture and potentially the Chinese government, American drone companies like Teal are jumping on the chance to grow without DJI, Autel and other Chinese drone makers in their way.
“We’re grateful for Sen. Romney’s interest in our company and his ongoing support for the U.S. drone industry,” said George Matus, Teal founder and CEO. “The American Security Drone Act, if passed, will lead to further investment in American UAS, accelerating our domestic industry’s ability to close the gap with China and build a strategic deterrence to future conflict.”
Other opportunities for American drone companies to compete with China
Besides bills like the American Security Drone Act of 2023 or the Blue UAS program aren’t the only ways that the U.S. government has been ramping up effort to better compete with China.
The Pentagon this week announced a program called “Replicator,” which would invest in high volumes of small drones for government use.
“Replicator will galvanize progress in the too-slow shift of U.S. military innovation to leverage platforms that are small, smart, cheap and many,” said Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks during the announcement, which was made during the National Defense Industrial Association’s Emerging Technologies conference.
Teal already seeing success as government agencies buy American
For what it’s worth, Teal is already profiting off of that Buy American sentiment. Red Cat announced on Aug. 8 that its subsidiary, Teal Drones, had received a $2.6 million purchase order to supply its Teal 2 drone to the U.S. Defense Logistics Agency (DLA). And it didn’t take long for them to earn a second contract.
On Aug. 22, Teal announced that it had received a second contract through the program — an additional $2.6 million order for another 172 units, bringing the total contract to $5.2 million. Both orders were requested by U.S. Air Force Security Forces, which says it is using the drones to secure its airfields and bases round-the-clock. The Teal 2 is designed for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, and it’s the first drone to be equipped with Teledyne FLIR’s new Hadron 640R sensor, which offers high-resolution thermal imaging in a small form factor.
A huge factor in the U.S. Air Force Security Forces’ reasoning to procure the Teal 2 drone is that the Teal 2 is approved by the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) as Blue UAS. Blue UAS is the label for a select group of DoD-approved drones for government users, which have been officially vetted as being NDAA compliant, validated as cyber-secure and safe to fly, and available for government purchase and operation.
Separately, Teal also got a huge leg up this month after its Teal 2 drone received Remote ID certification from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) — also announced on Aug. 22. That’s a critical and timely update because — as of September 16, 2023 at exactly 12:01 a.m. — all drone pilots required to register their UAS must operate their aircraft in accordance with the final rule on remote ID. The final rule for remote ID mandates a way that drones must provide identification and location information, which can then be read by other parties (some view it as a sort of electronic licensing plate system for drones).
Teal’s system for implementing Remote ID is unique because its integrated Remote ID system its inside the Teal 2 vehicle, broadcasting data from the flight control system about once per second. That rapid cadence theoretically offers more accuracy. And because the system uses Bluetooth 5, the signal can be transmitted as far as a mile, which is farther than the transmission signals on many other drones.
“We view ourselves as an aircraft manufacturer, as opposed to a consumer electronics manufacturer building something that flies,” Stewart said. “What sets us apart is our ability to look into the future, figure out what the FAA’s goals are in implementing a particular regulation, and then build technology that allows us to not only meet the regulation today, but sets our customers up for long-term success in a changing regulatory environment.”
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