U.S. Allies Have Intense Interest In Military Drones

U.S. firms appear well positioned to cash in as global drone market is projected to explode.

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Armed Predator drone
The military is currently working on upgrading drones so that they can fly in "hostile environments" like the Middle East and Africa, says Lt. Gen. Larry James.

America's allies are extremely interested in buying U.S.-made military drone aircraft, positioning American firms well for an expected explosion of unmanned plane sales.

In his global travels, Assistant Secretary of State Andrew Shapiro says he detects "an intense interest" among U.S. allies to purchase military drones.

Shapiro was measured in his description of how the State Department and other agencies will handle other nations' request to buy U.S. drones.

[Gallery: The Expansion of the Drone.]

"UAV sales present unique questions," Shapiro told reporters at a meeting in Washington, using shorthand for the term unmanned aerial vehicles. "We will consider those on a case-by-case basis."

U.S. aircraft and arms makers like General Atomics and Northrop Grumman are at the forefront of drone development and technology. And with the Teal Group predicting the global drone market will almost double over the next 10 years, those companies are poised to cash in.

The Fairfax, Va.-based consultancy projects $3.2 billion in drone sales in 2013, a figure it estimates will balloon to $6.6 billion in 2021. Drone prices vary, with a large model like General Atomics' Predator costing around $36 million, while smaller drones like AeroVironment's Raven go for around $25,000.

"The UAV market will continue to be strong despite cuts in defense spending," says Philip Finnegan, Teal's director of corporate analysis. "UAVs have proved their value in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan and will continue to be a high priority for militaries in the United States and worldwide."

John T. Bennett covers national security and foreign policy for U.S. News & World Report. You can contact him at jbennett@usnews.com or follow him on Twitter.

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