Pike Research said the growth is a result of increased U.S. military emphasis on energy security and logistical efficiency associated with the complex and challenging operational conditions being encountered in remote wartime environments such as Afghanistan.
At the same time, an almost complete dependence on a fragile and commercial power grid and other national critical infrastructure places military and homeland defense missions at an unacceptably high risk of extended disruption, it said.
These factors are leading the U.S. Department of Defense and other military agencies to explore fuel cells as an increasingly important part of their energy strategy for a variety of applications.
Pike's conclusions are found in its new report, "Fuel Cells for Military Applications." It found adoption of fuel cells will create a $1.2 billion market for military fuel cells by 2017, up from $9 million in 2011.
"Performance is the most powerful driving force for the adoption of fuel cells by the world's armed forces," said Pike research analyst Euan Sadden. "Enhancing the overall capabilities and performance of the U.S. armed forces is the leading priority for U.S. military agencies in considering new technologies and products for funding and potential integration into various military systems.
"Low noise and low heat signature represent two good examples, providing specific benefits to military users that may not be as important to other customers. Overall, though, the most attractive attribute of fuel cell systems is their high energy density, particularly when compared to standard military batteries."
Formidable barriers still face fuel cell manufacturers in their pursuit of the military market, however. Cost, durability, supply chain shortfalls, fuel availability, and serviceability are all factors that will pose serious challenges in the years ahead, the report said.
"Military users are the world's most demanding customers for fuel cells and, while they will be less price sensitive than the commercial market in the near term, their performance and production scale requirements may ultimately prove too high a hurdle for some vendors to overcome," Pike Research said.
Pike's analysis indicated that the largest opportunity for military fuel cells lies with soldier-wearable and portable power applications for devices such as radios, ruggedized computers and night-vision goggles, in which fuel cells are primarily used as a replacement for portable batteries.
The company forecasts that this category will represent more than 50 percent of the total military fuel cell market by 2017. The second largest category will be remote sensors and surveillance devices such as unmanned ground sensors.