OSA: Blog Articles

A Path to Success for Drone Makers in the Defense Space

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Is there space for startup companies to compete and develop small UAS? How do small American drone makers find success in a space dominated by foreign commercial products? There’s no better time than the present to be a drone maker operating in the defense space.


The government is transparent about their goals and checklist for acquiring small UAS. Their plan is straightforward. They want to take a modular open system approach, share IP and data rights, and lower the overall acquisition cost. As a defense contractor and drone maker, aligning yourself with these goals is a path to success. Even small companies with limited resources can align themselves with this acquisition strategy. There is great opportunity to become a key player right now.


Support a Modular Open System Approach

A modular open system approach represents a number of initiatives, including the idea of interoperability. Any new component or technology should not rewrite the manual on how to use a system. Interoperability drives innovation. Any single technology, so long as it is interoperable, does not preclude the use of other pieces of technology. This allows drone makers in all spaces, defense and commercial, the opportunity to focus down even on a single component or technology. So long as compatibility is preserved across the board and throughout future development and upgrades.


Another key to achieving a modular open system approach is through a shared code base. Having an open code base allows the best ideas to be acted upon and competitive with the contemporary systems. Smaller companies can seize on a brilliant innovation and incorporate it to the existing code base. Which is why shared IP and data rights play a critical role in this approach.


Share IP and Data Rights

Open source and available code bases do not mean all technology should be shared. Some individual technologies should be proprietary. Innovation is founded on the idea that the if you’ve got a great idea, you should patent it and profit from your great idea. Sharing IP and data rights means being inclusive. Open system architecture doesn't mean you can't develop proprietary technology. It means proprietary technology should not exclude other technology. It keeps the door open for brilliant ideas and innovation.


By encouraging an inclusive approach, the government emphasizes that the best technology is the goal. Open code opens the door for commercial and consumer-focused companies to enter and thrive in the defense space through coopetition. Companies need to meet the requirements and check boxes identified by the government. Size, resources, and deep ties in defense can be countered with innovation by agile companies. The opportunity to compete is here. This is especially relevant as you consider the import of the timing of the acquisition cycle and costs.


Reduce Acquisition Costs for the Whole Acquisition Cycle

There is, of course, a financial and timing component to the acquisition cycle for small UAS. The first significant program of record for small UAS was in 2008. As that development cycle has run its course, the government has identified strategies to reduce future acquisition costs. One of the concerns is for upgrading and changing systems as needed. Upgrading fielded technology in any enterprise is expensive in a proprietary model that excludes outside systems and components. Adopting an inclusive approach, where systems are modular and interoperable, fosters competition for the entire length of the acquisition cycle. It unlocks the acquisition cycle and keeps it unlocked through competition and lower costs.


With the start of new acquisition cycles approaching, reducing cost through competition means being the competition. There is no better time for American drone makers to apply their skill and products to the defense space. The government wants to embrace a commercial-off-the-shelf acquisition strategy. COTS will increase competitive pricing via inclusive technology design.


Case Study: Short Range Reconnaissance

The Defense Innovation Unit (DIU) recently announced a down-select for a new small unmanned system used for short range reconnaissance. Included in this down-select are a number of drone makers who are firmly established primarily in the commercial and consumer space. The technology behind commercial products that fit the parameters outlined by the military is a great example. Innovative technology is actively being sought in the defense space. The diversity of the composition of the competitors for this contract demonstrates the opportunities available to commercial, consumer, and defense-oriented drone makers, large or small.


Find Success

The government has outlined three key goals for small UAS and defense contractors: take a modular open system approach, share IP and data rights, and reduce acquisition costs through competition and innovation. Small, agile companies like Altavian that can align with the government's strategy can find success. Competition is good and coopetition is better. It will promote growth and innovation in the small UAS market throughout acquisition cycles. Agile and innovative companies have the opportunity to thrive. This is one of the cornerstones of Altavian's success. More importantly, it's a path for American drone makers to continue to grow and build better systems. The U.S. drone market can grow support the government as the government supports our growing drone market.