European demand booms for UAV-based remote sensors

Jan. 11, 2006
LONDON, 11 Jan. 2006. Soaring demand for unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) is being accompanied by rising demand for remote sensor technologies, according to a report from the analyst firm Frost & Sullivan.

LONDON, 11 Jan. 2006. Soaring demand for unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) is being accompanied by rising demand for remote sensor technologies, according to a report from the analyst firm Frost & Sullivan.

All the three sensor types -- electro optics (EO), infrared (IR), and synthetic aperture radar with moving target indicator (SAR/MTI) -- are becoming standard requirements across emerging UAV platforms. Of those three types, SAR/MTI sensors are projected to reach the highest aggregated revenues between 2005 and 2014.

Overall market growth will be driven by two enabling technologies -- superior remote sensor technology, and the emergence of UAVs with more payload weight capabilities.

The uptake of advanced UAV remote sensing systems in Europe is driven by three military needs: effective deployments over large distances, enhanced interoperability and surveillance requirements, and the shift of some forces to Naval Coastal Warfare (NCW) capabilities.

** Military benefits of sensors

UAV sensor demand is generated by the benefits provided by sensor-packed UAVs as complements to existing intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) platforms. Also, technological advances are constantly improving upon the ability of UAV remote sensors to operate remotely in dangerous environments and for extended time periods, the report says.

In recent operations, UAV remote sensors have demonstrably enhanced situational awareness (SA) and surveillance capabilities through early and effective detection, identification, tracking and engagement of targets.

Stand-off engagement has encouraged greater accuracy in remote sensors. EO/IR sensors are continuously being refined to increase resolution, enhance auto-focusing techniques, and boost sensitivity to thermal differences while frequent improvements in SAR have aimed to produce more user-friendly images (photographic-like radar images) and at higher resolutions and longer ranges.

The appeal of EO/IR type sensors is boosted by technological developments promoting situational awareness including higher resolution optics, hyperspectral imaging, and low light and night vision (light intensifying) imaging. SAR/GMTI (ground moving target indicator) sensors are prized for their ability to detect and track moving targets over wide areas.

** Market gets competitive

By 2014, the total European, Asia Pacific and Middle Eastern UAV remote sensors market is forecast to be $1.8 billion.

Over 70 percent of those revenues will come from China, India, Japan, Germany, France, the United Kingdom, Australia and South Korea. Europe alone is projected to account for a 25 per cent share of the total, thanks to both new and upgrade UAV programs, and the retirement of older manned airplanes.

The retirement of several ageing aircrafts from active service during the period 2005-2014 is also creating strong growth potential for UAVs possessing advanced ISR capabilities and integrated remote sensors.

Based on these trends, considerable opportunities for next generation UAVs exist in Europe, particularly in France, the United Kingdom, Germany, Italy, Turkey and Spain.

As the market picks up momentum, leading European-based manufacturers of remote sensors for UAVs -- including EADS, SAGEM, BAE Systems and Thales -- have to urgently address the existing capability gap between Europe and the United States while confronting competition from their U.S.-based rivals.

Market participants will have to establish a successful track record if they are to thrive.

"Manufacturers need to get on board emerging UAV programs and work closely with end-users. Partnering with various airframe manufacturers and integrators as well as militaries is a strong advantage," says Frost & Sullivan Systems Analyst Daniel Cohen.

"By joining and contributing to UAV manufacturers, remote sensor manufacturers can establish partnerships between themselves and end users, enabling them to differentiate their product. UAV end users prefer remote sensor systems that have also established successful performance records in demonstrations on existing scenarios and even manned platforms, and better still, in full service with militaries."

** UAVs are cheaper than manned aircraft

Cost advantages in terms of maintenance, training, and inventory management costs are set to promote the acquisition of UAVs over manned aircraft. However, in countries where the perceived costs of switching have been regarded as being unacceptably high, development programs for manned aircraft have been initiated even in areas where UAVs with remote sensors would seem to offer more benefit.

"Despite the capability advantages that UAVs have over manned assets, there remains certain segments of military capability that are well served by current manned assets, which can remain in service for a considerable period," Cohen says.

"The maritime patrol segment, for example, is typically served at the moment by manned aircraft based on large and functional airframes designed, not for performance, but for lift capability and long service, utilizing the same remote sensors for many years."

Nevertheless, maritime operations present key growth opportunities for UAVs with dedicated remote sensors, particularly in the Asia Pacific region. Continual tensions and surveillance requirements will result in the Asia Pacific region experiencing higher revenue growth than Europe and also offset the sluggish Middle Eastern market (excluding Israel, Iran and Syria).

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Edited by Ben Ames

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