An aerospace and defense industry analyst ponders the health of the avionics market, its promising subsegments, and potential impediments to future growth.
What is the current health of the military avionics market?
We’ve done a good job of updating aircraft. We’ve cleaned up most of the cockpits on legacy aircraft. Aircraft are now as ADS-B [Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast]-capable as we can make them until the FAA decides what ADS-B In is going to look like. I suspect that EuroControl is going to end up making that decision for us. We’ll have to line up, salute smartly, and follow what they came up with, to be honest, because there aren’t any signs that the FAA is going to demonstrate leadership in that regard.
Part of it is certainly funding, but part of it is leadership. I don’t think we’ve had any in the last eight years. There are a lot of things that Euro- Control and other folks are now championing, but we just quit. The FAA really has quit providing what I consider to be avionics leadership.
What is on the horizon for new aircraft avionics?
We are really into true fifth-stage avionics. Our basic avionics suite is pretty well standard and we’re strapping on things as we move to a more integrated, modular architecture approach. Ultimately, that leads to opportunities for smaller companies, rather than industry giants. We’re going to end up with de facto mainframes and people strapping on pieces of plug-and-play technologies, including weapons systems and sensor suites. IMA [integrated modular electronics] will allow us to do that.
What is your avionics forecast for 2012 and beyond?
The question is: Since we never enacted a 2011 budget, what are we going to spend in 2012? We didn’t spend the roughly $7.9 billion we expected to spend in 2011. Are we going to spend that delta in 2012? Are we going to enact a 2012 budget, and what does that mean as we’re creating a 2013 budget under the aegis of the Supercommittee? That’s a scary possibility.
2012 is kind of a crapshoot. My sense is that they’re going to have to spend part of what they didn’t spend in 2011, so if I were to put a number with it, I’d say in the neighborhood of $6.7 billion.
I see 2013 and beyond as being dynamically changed by the Supercommittee and very real budget pressures. We’re going to see a lot more low-rate initial production for probably the next three years.
What segments will be strong?
We’re going to continue to see a strong market for ISR (intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance) platforms, systems, and supporting avionics. The persistence of unmanned aerial vehicles is quasi-limited by the downlink capability. Onboard processing, which is part of the avionics picture, will be a big deal—that way the data pipe doesn’t have to be as huge. The more that can be done onboard, the better.
NAME: Wayne Plucker
TITLE: Senior Industry Analyst, Aerospace and Defense Group
CO.: Frost & Sullivan
ROLE: Market engineering and consulting in areas such as defense aerospace, C4ISR, simulation and training