Five advances that will define the aerospace and defense industry in 2019

Jan. 22, 2019
EAST HARTFORD, Conn., - The global aerospace and defense (A&D) business landscape is experiencing momentous disruption driven by a keen focus on innovation and digital transformation, and geopolitical situations such as the unknown implications of Brexit. Despite some impending uncertainty, demand for commercial aerospace and defense in 2018 finished with a continued, upbeat industry outlook. Both the commercial and defense sectors witnessed vigorous growth—a rare market situation as these markets have traditionally and empirically known to be counter-cyclical. 
The global aerospace and defense (A&D) business landscape is experiencing momentous disruption driven by a keen focus on innovation and digital transformation, and geopolitical situations such as the unknown implications of Brexit. Despite some impending uncertainty, demand for commercial aerospace and defense in 2018 finished with a continued, upbeat industry outlook. Both the commercial and defense sectors witnessed vigorous growth—a rare market situation as these markets have traditionally and empirically known to be counter-cyclical.

The progression of commercial aerospace is mainly being driven by the increasing number of passengers, which in turn is leading to expansion initiatives. A Deloitte research estimates the commercial aircraft order backlog to be at its peak standing at more than 14,000 orders, with about 38,000 aircraft expected to be produced globally in the next two decades. Development in the defense sector is being driven by rising geopolitical tensions, natural recapitalization cycles, greater high/low mix of assets, focus on aligning solutions to local requirements, and the increased demand for affordable, off-the-shelf equipment. Also, the recent recovery in defense budgets of major economies is expected to push the growth of the defense industry in 2019 and beyond.

Given this background and from the perspective of manufacturers, suppliers, and technology experts, the A&D industry is liable to experience the following five trends in 2019:

1. Transformations of legacy systems with an emphasis on the SWaP-C concept

Closely aligned with the desire for innovation is the continuous need by the sector for ongoing advances in reducing the size, weight, and power, plus cost (SWaP-C). This is vital to ensure that legacy equipment last longer and minimizing the need to purchase new platforms, which are significantly more expensive. 2019 will see a continued drive to design and deliver specialized aerospace and defense equipment with the SWaP-C concept. This will result in a continued focus on COTS/MOTS (commercial off-the-shelf/modified off-the-shelf) solutions combined with innovative design.

Related: New VITA working group to develop COTS standard for cooling SWaP-C-constrained VPX module-based systems

SWaP-C is relevant across the ISR and electronics capability spectrum—from radar and EO/IR to communications and avionics to electronic warfare systems. SWaP-C design allows smaller platforms to carry more advanced systems and sensors at lower costs. In the past, large and expensive platforms were the only way you could carry advanced sensors and equipment. Now we are seeing a better capability being delivered by smaller systems. For example, small-unmanned vehicles can now carry advanced radar and imagery equipment, which a decade ago required large manned aircraft.

Product rejuvenation entails an understanding and management of existing product limitations, prioritizing upgrades, and handling end-user issues with units already in use. The equipment and design upgrades in the A&D industry will be based on analysis of alternatives, engineering change management and configuration control, availability of right parts from the OEMs, critical safety reviews, and adherence to regulatory compliance. It has also opened the market to new entrants who can focus on less bespoke systems with slightly less capability, but provide more value for money, especially in markets outside the US where costs are a key driver.

2. Frequent digital transformation but with a focus on low-risk innovation with trusted partners

Standing at a meager 4.1%, the A&D sector has one of the lowest innovation intensity percentages (the percentage of sales earmarked for R&D). With new technologies including robotics/autonomous systems, artificial intelligence, additive manufacturing, and sensor technologies taking center stage, the industry will see an increased push toward the implementation of digital innovation. However, the A&D digital innovation strategy will follow a disciplined tactic where trusted associates will be sought to develop low-risk solutions that balance the inherent intricacy of new technology adoption with the need to increase capability at the lowest possible costs.

One of the substantial challenges to innovation in the A&D sector is that the industry is not compensated for internal R&D as much as more consumer-oriented markets. With a much smaller customer base (relatively speaking), high-risk investments do not always pay off as there are fewer potential end users, and gaining scale is often a challenge. Digital transformation is one such area. Despite efforts to more thoroughly adopt commercial technologies and standards into the sector, the process is slow and use cases are still limited. While there is a massive opportunity over the next several years, the near-term focus for 2019 will be on developing the right technologies and finding test cases to prove a reachable concept.

The focus in 2019 will incline further toward artificial intelligence (AI), augmented and virtual reality (AR/VR), data analytics, advanced sensors, and IoT. Data analytics is most likely to emerge as the most important “digital” solution for 2019 for the end-user community as the use case is proven, operation costs are relatively low, and the amount of data being created by the industry is tremendous. More capital-intensive solutions such as AI, AR/VR, and other tools will take more time to scale as the technologies and use cases continue to develop and mature.

Related: Artificial intelligence: AI’s increasing role in autonomous aircraft technology

However, from an internal process perspective, we will see greater development in the digital domain as there is less risk involved in implementation. 2019 will see significant investment in the concept of connected factories. This is closely tied to the broader trend of Industry 4.0, which is pushing ever-increasing automation onto the shop floor. With the drive to continue to lower production and total ownership costs, the ability to link manufacturing centers and make processes and tools more efficient will push the implementation of “connected” technologies within manufacturing centers, driven by the use of IoT solutions and “cyber-physical systems.”

While end-users in the air and on the battlefield may seek superior innovations, the nature of the industry will force a more risk-averse strategy and slow adoption of technologies that are taking off in other markets. That said, one area that the will see early adoption is on the factory floor with cost and efficiency providing a significant competitive advantage, as the industry seeks to do more with less.

3. Steady application of More-Electric Aircraft (MEA) leading to an incremental, but not immediate transition towards the All-Electric Aircraft (AEA)

The request for more fuel-efficient aircraft along with the need to bring down both the acquisition cost and the total ownership cost will drive demand for electric aircraft. The end goal of an AEA is still many years away from scaled production due to challenges in power density, efficiency, safety, and environmental sustainability. That said, 2019 will see a greater effort toward the concept of MEA. MEA is a more incremental approach that takes components and systems available today and integrates these technologies into the current aircraft fleets. More industrially feasible, such as the deployment of electro-hydrostatic actuators (EHAs), the shift toward MEA will bring a reduction in operating costs, fuel burn, and environmental impact.

Related: Bell Helicopter unveils 'Nexus' air taxi at CES

Even as existing propulsion technologies for aircraft continue to be rooted in the consumption of fossil fuels, we will see added use of electric systems and components in the near term. The transformation is expected in two categories: 1) MEA that enables the utilization of electric power for all non-propulsive systems, and 2) Electrically-Powered Aircraft.

To reduce weight and enhance reliability, the hydraulic and pneumatic systems used in actuation and air conditioning are already being replaced by electric solutions. Today, a Boeing 787 can generate ~1,000 kVA for onboard systems, which is expressively higher than older models. The power storage capacity has also enhanced.

While the overall adoption is slow and specific, there is greater acceptance of electric solutions in defense. For example, the F-35 can now produce ~400 kVA, and this is set to increase as more sensors are integrated into the aircraft platform.

The move toward a fully electric powered aircraft is underway and is being driven across the value chain, which is also attracting new suppliers that are competing with more traditional firms. There are numerous design projects with some form of electric propulsion at their core under development. These will cover a range of aircraft from urban air mobility vehicles to small jets and commercial airliners.

With electrification, the A&D industry can unlock significant improvements through aircraft weight reduction, fuel consumption efficiency, control on life-cycle costs, better maintainability, and more reliability.

4. Sustained increase in M&A activity will seed R&D cycle and cost-optimize the supply chain

Not since the 1990s have we seen such a large focus on consolidation that we are seeing today. This cycle is being fueled by growing cost pressures, need to access new technologies and proof of concepts, emerging global opportunities and threats, and stakeholders’ demand for value.

There has been significant M&A activity in the A&D industry, especially in the past two years. Deal valuation has remained high for quality acquisitions, and that will likely carry over into 2019, mainly due to pressure from OEMs on suppliers to reduce costs and increase production rates—possible only with a consolidation of fragmented supplier bases. Furthermore, large organizations will continue to obtain small to mid-sized players, with the main thrust on increasing their R&D interests in new technologies.

History has shown that first movers in any industry consolidation gain the highest returns on investment. This is largely a result of fortune favoring the bold. First movers typically take the best assets off the market, while followers need to add capability and scale to match, but tend to overpay for lesser assets to uphold that competitive position. 2018 saw a rash of first movers, but there are still plenty of “good” deals that can get done in 2019, but at still strong multiples.

5. Clearer focus on the Asia-Pacific region and developing closer engagements with the A&D supply chain

In the past five years, the APAC region has seen nations undertaking widespread reassessments of their defense strategies and resources. There is a rising network of commercial research, design, production, and operational support by defense equipment manufacturers in the region as governments work toward building a local industrial base for both economic reasons and greater security amidst strained geopolitical conditions.

Majority of the increased traffic and spend in the commercial aerospace segment stems from greater traffic demands in the APAC region. This has led to an increase in demand for airplane deliveries. Boeing forecast the need for 42,730 new jets¹ to accommodate the growing passenger traffic and upcoming aircraft retirements. APAC leads the way here with 40% of the demand accounting for 16,930 deliveries—this makes for a service market of $3,365 billion.

The A&D industry has been dynamic in responding to this increased demand, and local talent in the APAC region now plays a fundamental role in the development of better aircraft and defense equipment. The maintenance, repair, and overhaul (MRO) market has grown in Asian countries owing to a labor-intensive market. Airbus predicted that MRO solutions would increase at a yearly rate of 4.5% in the region as compared to 3.7% worldwide.²

Related: China aims to nearly double its number of civil airports by 2035

While the elevated growth in the Asia-Pacific region—especially China, India, Japan, and the Middle East—is not new, 2019 will see industry players progressively deepening their engagement with the regional supply chain. The old models of driving engagement exclusively from a centralized or regionalized location will transform to industry players working closely with the Asia-Pacific supply chain to provide value-for-money products that fit in with their specific needs rather than a repurpose of equipment meant for other markets.

Without a doubt, the direct challenge for the commercial aerospace industry is to deliver on the order backlogs that continue to be at record levels. Similarly, the defense industry is adapting to a change in global demand that seeks greater capability for lesser costs. The evolving developments and technologies will bring transformation and opportunities, but will also present new challenges. Industry must adapt to these shifts in demand, technology, and requirements, while at the same time managing costs and an increasing emphasis on ownership of more of the supply chain through both organic and inorganic investments.

The evolving market dynamics in 2019 call for an ecosystem of suppliers who are in sync with the technological expansions impacting the A&D sector. Strategic repositioning and engagement with trusted partners to take part in these new trends and overcome new challenges will be critical to optimize market share, become more competitive, and fill internal capability gaps while at the same time address new markets and opportunities.

About the Author, John Kenkel- Vice President - Head of Strategy & Marketing

John J. Kenkel joined Cyient in 2017 as the Vice President of Strategy and Marketing for Cyient's Aerospace & Defense business unit. He is based out of Washington D.C., USA and in his current role leads the global strategy and marketing process for Cyient's Aerospace and Defense Group.

Mr. Kenkel has an experience of over two decades in creating strategic plans and market strategies for a number of Fortune 500 and smaller firms catering to A&D sector. He joined Cyient from PA Consulting where he was in their Defense & Security practice. Prior to PA he was a Managing Partner at Renaissance Strategic Advisors, as well as a co-founder of the firm. He was also the lead partner in charge of the international practice based out of London. He also served as a member of the Board of Directors for Jane’s Information Group from 2005-2007. Before Jane’s, Mr. Kenkel was an Associate with DFI International (now Avascent), a boutique consulting firm specializing in strategic advice to the A&D industry.

Mr. Kenkel specializes in analyzing the US and international defense industry, and understanding the complexities of strategic planning and business development processes. He graduated from Miami University in Political Science and Diplomacy & Foreign Affairs. Prior to that he went to Centerville High School, Ohio.

Ready to make a purchase? Search the Intelligent Aerospace Buyer's Guide for companies, new products, press releases, and videos

Voice your opinion!

To join the conversation, and become an exclusive member of Military Aerospace, create an account today!