The market for unmanned aerial systems is projected to reach $7 billion within five years, with the biggest percentage growth in smaller platforms, according to a recent study.
Based on Pentagon budget documents and trends in overseas contingency operations funding, Defense Department spending on drones between fiscal years 2017 and 2023 is estimated to have a compound annual growth rate of 4.6 percent, said the report by Frost & Sullivan, "U.S. DoD UAS Market, Forecast to 2023."
The growth can be attributed to "an insatiable need for that 24/7 intelligence" gathering capability, report author Michael Blades, research director for North America, said in an interview.
Because they cost more, larger drones with long endurance--known as UAS groups 4 and 5--will still account for the bulk of overall unmanned aerial system spending in the coming years. Today, they account for about 70 percent of the market. But there is heightened interest in smaller platforms, Blades noted.
"If you look at what's spent now as opposed to what's spent in the future, it's going to be a much higher percentage increase in the [smaller] group 3s and 2s and 1s than there will be in the group 4 and 5s," he said.
For example, there is growing investment in off-the-shelf quadcopters and other systems that troops can easily deploy, he noted.
There's also a major push to improve group 3 UAS to give them capabilities similar to what groups 4 and 5...