The term dual use drones has slowly crept into drone terminology over the last few years, going from being something you’d hear only from industry wonks to a common phrase.
A dual use drone is a drone that can be used both for commercial and defense purposes.
We knew the term had gone mainstream when we saw the data released by Drone Industry Insights’ (DII) in late 2022 on the top drone manufacturers in the world.
In presenting the data, DII had broken drone makers into two categories—one focused on civil drone manufacturers and one focused on dual use drone manufacturers.
Credit: Drone Industry Insights
DUAL USE VS. MILITARY DRONES
Drones that are strictly made for the military have tight controls on them.
They can’t be exported to foreign countries, and non-U.S. citizens aren’t allowed to work on them—or even have access to them—and the Department of State and Department of Commerce oversee their export outside the U.S.
Dual use drones, on the other hand, are not as strictly controlled.
When drones were first being designed and manufactured, there was a clear flow from military to commercial uses.
The military would do research and development for new drone technology for defense purposes, and eventually that technology would probably become commercially available in some form.
An example of this kind of evolution is found in Global Hawk, a high endurance drone developed in the 1990s with support from DARPA, academic partners, defense contractors like Northrop Grumman, and an array of commercial drone companies.
Credit: Northrop Grumman
Global Hawk’s drone technology was first made for military uses, but it eventually found its way into commercial applications like surveying and mapping.
Of course, the landscape is much more complicated now.
The military is not at all the only place where cutting edge drones are being developed, and it’s not uncommon to find commercial drone technology being adopted for defense purposes instead of the other way around.
WHY ARE SO MANY OF THE TOP DUAL USE DRONE MAKERS BASED IN THE U.S.?
One thing that jumps out in DII’s list of top five dual use drone makers is the dominance of U.S. companies.
The top three spots are all U.S. companies—AeroVironment, Insitu, Anduril.
This may come as a surprise to some, given that the U.S. drone industry is still fairly new and not fully developed enough to meet supply chain issues, resulting in many U.S. drone companies relying on foreign components in their manufacturing.
But the U.S. government has been steadily funding the development of domestic drone production over the last few years, helping grow drone production.
One example of this type of funding is the U.S. Army’s Short Range Reconnaissance Tranche 2, a program that supports drone companies making drones for situational awareness that are small enough to fit into a backpack.
Teal Drones’ Golden Eagle was one of the three drones selected for this program. The U.S. Air Force has also had similar programs, all with a focus on investing in U.S.-based drone manufacturing that will result in dual use drone technology that will benefit both military and commercial sectors.