As the war on terror has unfolded, the use of unmanned fighter drones has flourished. And now, even as proposed defense budget cuts of fighter jets such as the F-35 joint strike fighter and ships are debated, the fighter drone industry is expected to grow exponentially in the coming years.
With reconnaissance the “centerpiece of our global war on terrorism," according to David L. Rockwell, an electronics analyst with aerospace research firm the Teal Group Corp, predator drones have increasingly been used for surveillance and reconnaissance.
The drone electronics industry now generates about $3 billion in revenue, reported the Los Angeles Times. In the next eight years it’s expected to double to $6 billion, the Teal Group estimates.
The projected growth has created a surge in mergers and acquisitions of companies that develop and make the parts for the sensor systems, with many of them in Southern California.
"There has been an explosion in the reconnaissance market," said Jon B. Kutler, founder of Admiralty Partners, a Century City private investment firm that buys and sells small defense firms. "It’s one of the few remaining growth areas," he told the Times.
Kutler’s company recently acquired Trident Space and Defense, which manufactures hard drives that enable drones to store high-resolution images. Over the last five years Trident’s sales has more than doubled to about $40 million.
Drones have not only become a primary tool for missile attacks in Afghanistan, but are increasingly used for reconnaissance thanks to new technology. They can pick up cell phone conversations and pinpoint the location of the caller as well as detect chemical plumes emanating from underground laboratories.