The increasing demand for remotely operated systems from the DoD has created a multi-billion dollar defense industry, wherein small firms and large defense contractors compete for market share.
New analysis from Frost & Sullivan (aerospace.frost.com), U.S. Unmanned Systems Markets, finds that the market earned revenues of over $2.9 billion in 2007 and estimates this to reach $3.5 billion in 2016.
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"Unmanned systems have proven to be ideal solutions for long endurance intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) missions, target acquisition, and in some cases, strike operations," says Frost & Sullivan Industry Analyst Lindsay Voss. "This is accelerating the procurement as well as the research and development efforts of the U.S. DoD."
These systems accomplish mundane and dangerous missions, thereby giving soldiers the freedom to focus on critical tasks. The U.S. military services have assigned top priority to unmanned systems programs to ensure continued and consistent funding. After rigorous battle testing, the proven benefits of these remote controlled vehicles encourage other federal agencies and commercial entities to consider adopting this technology.
Despite the DoD's high deployment over the last five years, growth of unmanned systems in the mid to long term is expected to be slow. Specifically, growth will likely plateau as technology matures and future growth will be dependent on a long-term plan to develop interoperable and unified systems.
Changes in the political sphere and a lack of new unmanned system programs represent potential roadblocks to continued progress. These factors will curtail market growth between 2010 and 2016 and will affect companies that have depended heavily on the DoD the most.
"Companies that had once tried to breakthrough this market have now focused their efforts on electro-optical and infrared (EO/IR) sensors, miniaturized synthetic aperture radar (SAR), collision avoidance systems, tactical data links, and ground control stations," notes Voss.
The DoD has not initiated new ventures that could provide opportunities to revitalize the sector in the future. Budget cuts and decision-making delays will also impact the market's future prospects.
"In the unmanned systems market, the focus tends to be on the platform itself, and several companies have been successful in selling their platforms to the DoD," observes Voss. "However, for companies to continue thriving in the market, it will be crucial to explore new methods to optimize system capabilities, including the enhancement of communication systems and payloads."
Going forward, emphasis will be on interoperability, innovation, and the reduction of operational and support costs. Promising areas include sensors, imagers, electro-optical cameras, radar guidance or navigation, communications, and ground control stations.
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U.S. Unmanned Systems Markets