Unmanned Vehicles

Paris Air Show: Weaponised UAV expansion set to drive growth in the market

18th June 2019 - 12:00 GMT | by ​Matt Smith in London

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The market for military unmanned systems will reach more than $14.5 billion annually by the end of the next decade, according to a new analysis from Shephard Media. 

Shephard’s Military Unmanned Systems Forecast 2019-2029 shows that spending on new unmanned air, land and maritime vehicles will rise from US$8.1 billion in 2019 to U$14.4 billion by 2029.

This growth is being driven primarily by an expansion in global unmanned aircraft fleets, particularly for weaponised medium-altitude systems. 

At the very high end, while there is significant investment in research and development for aircraft capable of being a manned fighter replacement, the entry into service of this kind of unmanned combat aircraft (UCAV) still appears some way off as all of the major powers plan to retain manned aircraft as their principal air combatant.

The focus is currently on cheaper ‘wingman’ type drones to complement the manned fighters, armed medium altitude, long endurance (MALE) platforms that can provide a strike capability in relatively non-contested airspace, and drone swarms or loitering munitions. 

According to the report, the global market for UCAV (including weaponised MALE systems) is expected to be worth almost $20 billion during the forecast period, with spending on new systems increasing from US$1.3 billion annually in 2019 to US$2.1 billion in 2029. 

The major US suppliers have historically faced stringent export controls that have restricted the sale of their most advanced systems to a small number of close US allies.

However, the export landscape for US firms is starting to change. In 2019 President Donald Trump’s administration proposed a relaxation in UAS export controls by way of a proposal to change current MTCR guidelines. 

This occurred alongside the introduction of a new policy covering the international sale and transfer of US-based military and civil unmanned systems.

Ultimately this will open markets previously thought to be closed to the US, and may well result in countries in the region with strong ties to the US pivoting back to American-made equipment. 

These markets may still be competitive. Some nations who were unable to access export UAS have been developing their own unmanned systems and these could be expected to compete for both domestic and export requirements. Others have turned to countries such as China to fill the gap. 

Furthermore, the European countries, while able to procure systems like the General Atomics MQ-9B, are also developing their own programmes such as the European MALE RPA, and in the long term will move away from importing systems to buying domestically produced ones. 

With recent moves in the US to ease export restrictions alongside growing indigenous capability, it is clear that export sales of UAV are only going to become even more fiercely contested.

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