The global market for unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) will continue its meteoric expansion from $4 billion annual expenditures to $14 billion by 2025, according to the Aerospace Analyst Teal Group’s 2015 UAV market profile.
UAVs are expected to generate $93 billion over the next 10 years, while military research and development of unmanned aircraft will likely add another $30 billion, the report said.
The global market for unmanned, or remotely-piloted aircraft, already has exploded since the technology first became relatively widespread in the mid-1990s. The market then was $100 million per year and has expanded to $6 billion a year in less than a decade, the report said.
“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,” said Philip Finnegan, Teal Group’s director of corporate analysis and an author of the study.
The 2015 study for the first time included consumer UAVs, which have experienced a rapid market growth as the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) continues to expand their allowable uses within the U.S. National Airspace (NAS).
“Consumer UAVs are showing that they can do many of the easier commercial missions such as simple real estate photography,” Finnegan said.
As in previous forecasts, military aircraft dominate worldwide spending on UAVs, and the United States is by far the largest spender. The U.S. military will account for 64 percent of total research of development spending on UAV technology over the next decade, and about 38 percent of the military procurement, the report said.
Technological advancements in military UAVs will be aimed at improving survivability in hostile airspace. The use of the MQ-1 Predator and MQ-9 Reaper drones in Afghanistan and Iraq has been successful largely because U.S. adversaries in those theaters have almost no air defenses to speak of. Both of those medium-altitude, long-endurance (MALE) UAVs are extremely vulnerable to integrated air defenses and enemy fighter aircraft in a conflict with a more technologically advanced foe, the teal Report said.
“The UAVs of the current generation are sitting ducks for existing missile-based air defense systems, since they are large, slow-moving, and visible to radar,” the report said. “The US Air Force is examining…high sub-sonic, stealthy penetrator UAVs such as the Lockheed Martin RQ-170 Sentinel, but there is practically no open-source information on the scale of their production. Until these programs begin to emerge from the ‘black world,’ their role in the over-all UAV market will be very difficult to determine.”
The 2015 report puts military unmanned aircraft at 72 percent of the market, followed by consumer UAVs at 23 percent and just 5 percent for civil aircraft. Of the three sectors, Teal has civil UAVs growing the fastest over the next decade as technology matures and more airspace becomes open to their operation.
The FAA already has surpassed 1,000 certificates of authorization under a law that allows case-by-case exemptions for UAV pilots to fly outside of existing flight restrictions and to sell the data they collect as a service. The FAA’s goal now has a goal to process 100 exemptions per week to help cut the backlog of more than 1,000 petitions pending, Teal found.
Six UAV test sites designated by the FAA as research facilities to inform NAS integration are up and running, The Government Accountability Office found. At least 195 test flights that provided data on operations and safety had been conducted as of March.
The GAO, in a report published July 16, found the FAA was progressing sufficiently, though with caution, toward the goal of “seamlessly integrating unmanned aerial system (UAS) flights into the national airspace.” A plan outlining the path to NAS integration, including regulations on flight by UAV weight class, could be in place as soon as December, GAO said. But final rules governing the operation of unmanned aircraft over U.S. soil may not be issued until late 2016 or early 2017, the report said.