DJI makes some of the best drones, but some of what makes them so popular for peacetime activities — ease of use, long flight times, and excellent cameras — also makes them useful for military operations, which is why the Ukrainian government has asked the company to create a 'no-fly' zone for its drones in Ukrainian airspace.
Ed. note: This story was updated to add a comment from DJI.
In 21 days of the war, russian troops has already killed 100 Ukrainian children. they are using DJI products in order to navigate their missile. @DJIGlobal are you sure you want to be a partner in these murders? Block your products that are helping russia to kill the Ukrainians! pic.twitter.com/4HJcTXFxoYMarch 16, 2022
In a tweet directed at DJI, Mykhallo Federov, the Vice Prime Minister of Ukraine and Minister of Digital Transformation of Ukraine, posted an open letter to the company, stating that the Russian military was using DJI products to "navigate their missile[s] to kill civilians" in its invasion of Ukraine.
In addition, Federov said that the Russian military was using DJI Aeroscope — which identifies and geolocates DJI drones — to target Ukrainian DJI drone pilots.
In the letter, Federov asked DJI for the following:
- The number of functioning DJI products in Ukraine, their ID, where and when they were purchased and activated
- The map (on regions of Ukraine) of functioning DJI products in Ukraine
- Switch on for Ukrainian users DJI AeroScope function
- Block all DJI products functioning in Ukraine which were purchased and not activated in Ukraine
- Block all DJI products which were purchased and activation in the Russian Federation, Syria, and Lebanon.”
DJI has previously instituted no-fly zones for its drones in conflict zones in Iraq and Syria after it was discovered that ISIS was weaponizing DJI drones. The company also uses geofencing to prevent its drones from flying around airports and other sensitive areas in the U.S. and elsewhere.
DJI responded to Federov's tweet with one of its own, stating in part that if the Ukrainian government were to formally request a 'no-fly' zone in the country, it would apply to all DJI drones, and not just those purchased outside the country.
pic.twitter.com/ZoCXQIDOytMarch 16, 2022
In its tweet, DJI also noted that its geofencing feature was not foolproof, and that the Aeroscope system could not be turned off.
In a comment to Tom's Guide, Adam Lisberg, DJI’s North American corporate communication director, confirmed the tweet. "There’s no way for us for us to distinguish drones that can fly in an area and those that shouldn’t based on where they were registered," he said. "Beyond that, we also know that for someone who is determined to evade our geofencing, they can do it."
"We deplore any use of our drones to cause harm," Lisberg said. "We try and stay out of geopolitical issues. We just want to make drones and cameras."
Lisberg also said that he did not know if DJI had received any further messages from the Ukrainian government beyond the open letter.
When asked if DJI was stopping the sales or use of its products in Russia — a step that Apple, Netflix, and others have taken — Lisberg said "What we have told our dealers and distributors that we follow the laws of the countries in which we operate. We also follow sanctions laws as are put in place by the United States and European countries...And we have emphasized that to them once again."
Lisberg would not say whether or not the U.S. or any other government had banned sales of drones in Russia.
If you want to help Ukraine, here is a list of resources to which you can donate to charitable organizations.