2015 World unmanned aerial vehicle analysis

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According to the Teal Group’s latest market analysis, Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) continue as the most dynamic growth sector of the world aerospace industry this decade. They have estimated that UAV production will more than triple from current worldwide production of $4 billion in 2015 to $14 billion in 2025, totalling $93 billion in the next ten years.

“The market for UAVs looks very strong, increasingly driven by new technologies such as the next generation of unmanned combat systems, and the development of new markets such as civil and consumer drones”, declared Philip Finnegan, author of the study.

The UAV study established that the military will account for 72% of spending, followed by consumers at 23% and 5% for civil aviation until 2025. The military market was small until recently, with military UAVs playing a growing role in the Afghanistan and Iraq wars in 2001 and 2003.

The consumer UAV market has soared over the past several years, emerging as the fastest growing segment of unmanned systems market, and it is becoming a market for the broad mass of consumers, not only hobbyists. The Chinese brand DJI may dominate the market with 70% of market shares. Finally, the civil market for UAVs is extremely small at the moment, but promises to be one of the fastest growing segments in the next decade.

As airspace opens worldwide over the next 10 years, UAVs increasingly will be used in a variety of new applications in border patrol, law enforcement, agriculture, mapping, and natural resources.

The U.S. will account for 63% of the worldwide R&D spending on UAVs over the next decade ($18.7 billion out of $29.8 billion), as well as 41% of military procurement through the same period ($27.7 billion out of $67.2 billion). But figures change significantly if we take into account the classified budget with “black” programmes. A tangible example of the black UAV budget in the US is the RQ-170 Sentinel programme which only came to light when one of the stealth drones came down in Iranian territory. In that case, the U.S. will account for 80% of the world R&D on UAVs ($43.3 billion out of $54.4 billion) and for 56% of the procurement ($50.8 billion out of $90.3 billion) from 2016 to 2025. This difference is due to the heavier U.S. investment in cutting-edge technologies in such areas as precision-guided weapons, information and sensor technology, and military application of space systems. Besides, there is the marked lag time in such research and procurement elsewhere, especially major aerospace centres such as Europe.

According to the study, the Asia-Pacific area will represent the second largest market after the USA, with production forecast over the decade of 9,114 units representing $14.6 billion. Furthermore, the Asia-Pacific region may represent an even larger segment of the market, but several significant players in the region, namely Japan and China, are not especially transparent about their plans compared to Europe. Europe would be in third position with 6,278 units representing $8.3 billion. As in the case of many cutting edge aerospace products, Africa and Latin America are expected to be very modest markets for UAVs.

In addition, the Teal Group study has also covered the common categories of the industry: Mini UAVs, Small Tactical UAVs (STU-AVs), Tactical UAVs (TUAVs), Naval VTUAVs, MALE UAVs, HALE UAVs and UCAVs. The Mini UAV is small enough to be launched by a person and is typically deployed by Army units at platoon or company level. The Small Tactical STU-AV is a UAV between mini-UAV and TUAV in size, typically small enough to be lifted by a human, but too large to be launched by hand. The TUAV is used for reconnaissance by Army formations of regiment, brigade, or division size, with endurance of several hours and operating radius of 200 km or less. The Naval VTUA is a tactical vertical take-off UAV adapted for shipboard use with a customized ground controls station for shipboard operations.

The MALE UAV is a medium Altitude/Long Endurance UAV with endurance of about 24 hours and long range capability, generally used for operational reconnaissance. The HALE UAV is a High Altitude/Long Endurance UAV with endurance of a day or more and long range capability, generally used for strategic reconnaissance. Finally, the UCAV is an Uninhabited Combat Air Vehicle, a high performance UAV designed primarily for ground attack.

The UCAVs, the MALEs and the HALEs would represent the most profitable – but not the most produced- type of UAVs with respective production forecast over the period of $30 billion, $20.5 billion and $11.2 billion for a total of $66.8 billion. On the contrary, the most manufactured type of UAV would be the mini-UAV with 36,108 units and STUAVs with 2,116 units out of a total forecast production of 41,996 units.-