The Corps is being forced to ground commercial drones it has been fielding to infantry units because of a recent Department of Defense policy memo.

The policy memo, released at the end of May and signed by Deputy Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan, bans the purchase and use of commercial off-the-shelf, or COTS, drones, citing cybersecurity concerns.

“The DoD Inspector General found that the DoD has not implemented an adequate process to assess cybersecurity risks associated with using commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) Unmanned Aerial Systems,” the memo reads.

The Corps has been rapidly issuing small Instant Eye quadcopters to every rifle squad as part of a program called ‘Quads for Squads.’

To date, the Corps has given out roughly 600 of the small tactical drones and another 200 are pending, Capt. Pena, a Marine spokesman, told Marine Corps Times.

Lance Cpl. Cesar Salinas, an infantry Marine with 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, assists his squad by providing reconnaissance with an Instant Eye at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, California, July 13, 2016. (Marine Corps)
Lance Cpl. Cesar Salinas, an infantry Marine with 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, assists his squad by providing reconnaissance with an Instant Eye at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, California, July 13, 2016. (Marine Corps)

Those drones are now grounded “until the DoD identifies and fields a solution to mitigate known cybersecurity risks,” the memo states.

The Corps plans to submit a waiver “requesting an exemption,” Pena added.

However, Shanahan is the only authority authorized to approve exemptions and any waivers will be reviewed on a “case by case basis, to support urgent needs,” according to the memo.

The recent DoD memo will not interrupt the shipping of the remaining drones, Pena added.

The Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. Robert B. Neller has been pushing to equip grunts with the small drones to aid in battlefield situational awareness.

And recently, the top Marine cut the size of the Marine rifle squad from 13 to 12 while also adding a new drone systems operator role.

The grounding of the Marine drones was first reported by Military.com.