The Department of Defense has approved a waiver allowing the Corps to continue flying and operating the commercial drones it has dished out to Marine infantry units following a temporary grounding over cybersecurity concerns, according to Corps officials.
In May, DoD released a policy memo signed by Deputy Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan that banned the purchase or use of commercial off-the-shelf drones because of cyber worries.
The memo impacted nearly 600 Instant Eye tactical drones issued to Marine infantry squads as part of a program dubbed “Quads for Squads” and pushed by Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. Robert Neller.
“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 memo authorized the services to submit a waiver seeking exemption. Approval authority for the waivers rested with Shanahan on a case by case basis.
With the waiver recently approved, those drones are now cleared for flight within the U.S. and for forward-deployed Marines, Marine officials said.
The Corps has rapidly distributed the small drones to infantry Marines and another 200 are pending shipment, according to Capt. Joshua Pena, a Marine spokesman.
The small drones are vital to the Marines’ new plans to change the structure of the Marine rifle squad.
In May, Neller slashed a Marine from the 13-man squad model and added a new drone operator billet to aid Marines in battlefield situational awareness.
Shawn Snow is the senior reporter for Marine Corps Times and a Marine Corps veteran.