What Are Dual Use Drones? And Why Is the U.S. One of Their Top Manufacturers?
BY Zacc Dukowitz7 February 2023
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.
Some of the Top U.S. Dual Use Drone Companies
Aside from these funding efforts, some of the companies that are on the top of the DII dual use list have been involved in defense manufacturing for some time.
When we look at the top dual use drone companies in the U.S. right now they break roughly into two categories.
In the first category are those companies that started as defense-focused and then began offering commercial solutions, following the traditional path to a commercial drone offering that we described above.
And the second category are those companies who have started as commercial-focused startups, and then shifted into defense, or started as both commercial- and defense-focused.
Here are three examples for each of these categories.
Dual Use Drone Companies that Started with a Defense Focus
Aerovironment has been around for a long time. The company was founded in 1971, and they produce not just drones but also technology and other robotics solutions to support a variety of defense and commercial applications.
Insitu was founded in 1994 and it is a wholly owned subsidiary of Boeing. Though not quite as old as Aerovironment, the company has an established track record of working exclusively to develop UAS solutions for both defense and commercial applications.
Anduril is a relative newcomer, having been launched only five years ago, in 2017. The company is heavily focused on defense, manufacturing both airborne and underwater drones, but its technology can also be applied to commercial uses.
Dual Use Drone Companies that Started with a Commercial Focus
1. Teal Drones
Teal Drones has arguably always been focused on defense and law enforcement/government applications, though its drones could certainly be used for more general commercial work. The company was founded in 2014 and was acquired by Red Cat Holdings in 2021. Since launching, Teal Drones has added more and more features that make its technology appealing to defense and security markets, including its recent addition of low-light capabilities for night operations.
2. Asylon Robotics
Asylon Robotics makes drone technology and robotics solutions focused on perimeter surveillance and security. This tech has obvious defense applications but is also incredibly useful for companies with huge storage facilities, like Amazon or UPS. Asylon Robotics was founded in 2015.
Skydio first made headlines for its follow-me drone technology, which was initially positioned as a kind of cutting edge GoPro competitor—a drone that could follow along while you did extreme mountain biking or parkour through the woods. But the autonomy engine that runs Skydio’s drones makes it a very appealing solution for both defense and public safety, and Skydio clearly has its sights set on being a regular vendor for U.S. armed forces. Last year, Skydio was selected to participate in the U.S. Army Short Range Reconnaissance Program. The company was founded in 2014.