Defence 'naive' to delay security assessment of Chinese drones, former senior official says

Defence 'naive' to delay security assessment of Chinese drones, former senior official says

Defence 'naive' to delay security assessment of Chinese drones, former senior official says

Updated 21 September 2017, 17:10 AEST

The Department of Defence was "naive" to delay suspending the use of Chinese-made drones after concerns were raised about their security, a former senior Defence official says.

Defence Minister Marise Payne today confirmed a security assessment of military drones manufactured by Shenzhen-based DJI was conducted in August, prompted by concerns raised by the US Army four months ago.

The drones are now back in the air and the Government says it is confident they pose no national security threat.

But executive director of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute and former senior Defence official, Peter Jennings, said the military needed to be more careful.

He said he was surprised a risk assessment into the drones was only conducted after they had been used for some time in service.

"It's concerning and perhaps a little naive on the part of our defence organisation that they would be using technology without doing a risk assessment about whether or not there is information that can be retrieved or sent back to the manufacturers," Mr Jennings said.

The Australian security assessment was conducted last month and took three weeks — months after American officials undertook theirs.

"It's significant that the Americans withdrew the technology from service, and I'm not surprised that we at least paused in terms of our own use of the drones.

"Frankly I don't think we should be so naive. I think by now people should be more alive to the risks that that's posing in terms of information from those systems actually going back to China.

'China is doing this for its own benefit'

Mr Jennings said he was also concerned about increasing reports of Chinese influence over Australian universities.

A Guardian report this week detailed how the University of NSW was potentially channelling technology with military uses to China through a $100 million joint innovation fund.

"China is doing this for its own benefit. It's not really doing it for the benefit of Australian start-up companies or our universities, and we should look beyond the dollar to understand what the strategic implications are," Mr Jennings said.

"It does appear to be the case that some of the technologies that are being considered have a dual use, that is civilian and military.

"Those companies and universities should consider that if they get too closely allied to Chinese companies, it may well compromise their ability to actually sell technology into the Australian Defence system, or the systems of our allies."

Mr Jennings said the reports over the joint innovation fund were particularly concerning given the Defence Force partners with UNSW to train officers in Canberra.

"I think the university needs to have a closer look at whether or not this really is acceptable from a national security point of view."