UAV market shows strong growth through next decade

Nov. 1, 2004
The market for unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) appears to be growing steadily over the next ten years because of the successful deployment of these pilotless aircraft in operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, market analysts say.

The market for unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) appears to be growing steadily over the next ten years because of the successful deployment of these pilotless aircraft in operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, market analysts say.

The Global Hawk UAV and other ­automated systems will play central roles in the U.S. Air Force technology plans through the year 2020.
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“The market for UAVs is expected to generate approximately $10.6 billion over the next 10 years according to a recent report by Forecast International/DMS,” state officials from investment firm Houlihan Lokey Howard & Zukin in New York City in their November 2003 Aerospace Defense Government Market Update. Increased visibility of UAVs and successful military actions throughout the world are considered the primary drivers within the industry, with tactical UAVs outpacing high-endurance systems.

“While the Pentagon is expected to award some $5.4 billion in contracts to U.S. companies over the next several years, mostly to dominant industry players like Northrop Grumman and General Dynamics, there is an estimated $1.3 billion in new requirement contracts available for both large and small international companies,” the report states. “EADS and BAE Systems are likely to become the dominant ­international companies, with strong performance from Israeli companies like Elbit Systems.

Michel Merluzeau, principal analyst for aerospace and defense for Frost & Sullivan in Washington says the total UAV market currently is $3.5 billion and possibly growing to $5 billion or $6 billion in the next decade. Frost and Sullivan’s numbers may be different from others because they take into account only aircraft and air systems, not ground stations, Merluzeau says.

Right now the U.S. has about 60 percent of the total UAV market, by 2010 it will about 70 percent with more General Atomics Predator Bs are deployed and the Joint Unmanned Combat Air System (J-UCAS) planes are built and operational, Merluzeau says. European UAVs take up about 16 percent globally while Asia is at 12 percent, he adds.

The J-UCAS program was established last fall to demonstrate the technical feasibility, military utility, and operational value of developing a network of high-performance and weaponized UAVs, Northrop Grumman officials say. These air vehicles will conduct a variety of 21st century combat missions for the Air Force and the Navy including suppression of enemy air defenses; electronic attack; precision targeting and strike; and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance. Northrop Grumman and Boeing are competing on this contract.

J-UCAS will also get a chunk of Department of Defense funding until the end of its research and development stage in 2007 and 2008, then funding will beef up again as units are ordered and deployed, Merluzeau says. By 2009 J-UCAS will make up about 29 percent of funding, Northrop Grumman’s Global Hawk will get 29 to 30 percent, Predator B about 14 percent, and about 3.5 percent will go to the Unmanned Combat Air Rotorcraft (UCAR), he says.

UCAR is a Northrop Grumman/ Lockheed Martin competition, Merluzeau adds.

Overall the UAV market is at a very different stage, Merluzeau says. Programs such as the Global Hawk and the Predator have reached maturity, he says. In other words there is only so much more than can be done with them in terms of variants and modifications, Merluzeau explains. Platforms will only go so far, he adds.

The trend now is toward micro or mini UAVs, Merluzeau says. Backpack UAVS are also getting a lot of attention from the Marine Corps, he adds.

Backpack UAVS are essentially carried in a backpack into the field and released to patrol or target airstrikes, Merluzeau says. These will be in greater demand five to ten years down the road, he adds. Backpack UAVS will not make up a large portion of the funding once they are ­deployed in greater numbers because they are relatively inexpensive to produce - maybe $100,00 to $200,000 each - where as the J-UCAS is getting close to $20 million a plane, Merluzeau says.

Despite their maturity you will see much more deployment of the Predator B variants due to their effectiveness in battle and reconnaissance. Merluzeau says he expects 200 to be deployed by 2009 and maybe more.

A UAV program close to being awarded as this article went to press is the U.S. Navy’s Broad Area Mari­time Surveillance (BAMS) contract, Merluzeau says. The contract was to be awarded last month, he says.

The two bidders are Northrop Grumman with a version of their Global Hawk and Lockheed Martin with their Mariner aircraft, which combines the Predator B fuselage with the 86-foot wings General Atomics Altair UAV to meet BAMS increased the altitude and range requirements. Mariner can stay aloft for up to 49 hours carrying a payload of 1,150 pounds to altitudes of greater than 50,000 feet, Lockheed Martin officials say.

The BAMS concept was developed by the U.S. Navy to address an identified shortfall in assets for conducting intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR), Lockheed Martin officials say. The BAMS program is designed to off-load a significant portion of the ISR mission, currently maintained by its P-3 fleet today, using Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), to augment and complement this capability as they transition to their new multi-mission maritime aircraft, company officials say.

Data transformation and artificial intelligence will play a key role in UAV research and development, as the U.S. military becomes more and more engaged in network centric warfare, Merluzeau says. More processing power and downlink will be needed to meet the command, control, and ISR demands of the future, he says.

Artificial intelligence refers to the way UAVs will be more auto­no­mous on their missions and more able to adapt to changing scenarios that may pop up in a preplanned mission, he says.

The market for unmanned ground vehicles (UGVs) while not as glamorous as UAVS is growing steadily also, Merluzeau says. UGVs have been used initially in homeland security applications with some use in urban warfare in Iraq, he says.

Unmanned undersea vehicles meanwhile are very black, highly classified areas, which are not publicized, Merluzeau says. The Navy does not want anyone to know whether it has the capability to go into enemy ports or other areas undetected, he adds.

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