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Unmanned Aerial Vehicle
 Global Roundup 2011

Because UAVs are inexpensive, easy to maintain and, most important, eliminate risk to human pilots, they are now on the wish lists of many nations. Although many countries are building their own systems or seeking such capability, some find it more efficient to buy UAVs from the world's leading manufacturers. Either way, the growth in sales of these aircraft is projected to continue at a brisk pace worldwide.

by J.R. Wilson

 

[Aerospace America - March 2011]
Click here to see full article at Aerospace America website

 

Today, companies in nations around the globe are uilding - or at least designing - some type of UAV, both for their own militaries and for a fast-growing worldwide market. Their many benefits - multiple suppliers, relatively low cost, and demonstrated abilities for widely varying applications (persistent ISR, command and control, communications relay, and ‘hunterkiller’) - have made most nations eager to add UAVs to their military fleets.

Technology

Operational experience and tighter defense budgets have reduced warfighter and service chief wish lists to what is most needed, most quickly attainable, affordable, most versatile, able to use an integrated ground control station (one that can control multiple UAVs and/or types of aircraft), and able to be easily integrated into a multiservice, multination networked battlespace.

The past two decades have seen almost every conceivable type of craft and propulsion system thrown into the air in hopes of being ordered. UAVs have gained enough technological maturity and user acceptance to move from revolutionary concept to evolutionary development.

This is not to say that DARPA and its counterparts around the world will not continue to push the envelope on every aspect of UAVsmaterials, shape, propulsion systems, sensors, artificial intelligence, scalable lethality (including the ability to change in mid-mission), guidance, operating environment), and size.

The past two years, for example, have seen new efforts in the development of unmanned helicopters. These aim at meeting Marine Corps requirement for a system to resupply forward units (especially with water) while relieving manned rotorcraft for other missions, without increasing the demand on - and dangers to - ground convoys.

At the same time, the MQ-1 Predator has seen its last procurement, with future acquisition going to the MQ-9 Reaper. It has a strong Predator lineage (it was once called Predator B), but was designed from scratch to be a true hunter-killer, using an expanded weapons set and advanced sensors.

Some consider the Reaper the first true UCAV (unmanned combat air vehicle), because its size, flight envelope, and weapons capability - including GPS-guided joint direct attack munitions, Paveway laser-guided bombs, and Sidewinder air-to-air/air-toground missiles - give it precision-strike and ground-support capabilities far exceeding those of the Predator.

Designated UCAV projects now include the Northrop Grumman/USN X-47B naval unmanned combat air system, which made its first test flight on February 4, BAE Systems/U.K. Taranis, the six-nation European nEUROn, Russia’s MiG Skat, and multiple (but unverified) Chinese programs.

Interest in UCAVs has grown as the likelihood of a non-U.S. near-term fifth-generation manned fighter remains remote, despite Russian and Chinese claims to be on the verge of producing such aircraft. A fleet of UCAVs would be far easier - and less expensive - to acquire. But they also have grown more important to the U.S., especially given predictions the combined U.S. air fleet will fall short of requirements because of delays in the F-35 and a significantly reduced buy of F-22s. The Navy, for example, sees UCAVs as a way to put more strike aircraft with longer range and endurance to sea in less time.

Manufacturers

The numbers in the accompanying chart have changed significantly with each biennial edition. The last one, in 2009, showed far more companies in far more countries working on many more UAVs than did its predecessor.

But it also reflected the beginning of a consolidation of design and development efforts, a new concentration on specific mission types and capabilities, and a falling away of those ‘manufacturers’ who were offering little more than remote-controlled hobby airplanes carrying new small cameras and data transmission systems based on commercial technology (primarily advances in smartphones).

That consolidation has continued, at all levels. And although this report reveals as much information as we could gathersurprisingly little in response to direct requests to more than 500 companies, universities, labs, and so onthe discussion will focus  on the legitimate major players, both nations and companies

These will be UAVs built for their own militaries, for allies and alliances, and for general sale. It also will include as much information as possible on ‘black’ programs - the DARPA-level eforts that continue the UAV revolution. In some cases, little more than a name is knownand, often, even that may not be real. In this category, special care has been taken to verify, validate, and confirm the information presented.

We will also look at end usersnations that plan to buy and use one or more types of UAV, or have already done so, rather than attempting to develop an indigenous manufacturing capability. Even the most prolific manufacturers fall into this category, as do some nations that have sufficiently advanced infrastructure to develop their own UAVs but have decided not to ‘reinvent the wheel,’ instead spending their scarce defense R&D funds on other projects.

Even so, the Teal Group’s 2010 UAV market study predicts a worldwide demand of more than $80 billion for UAVs and related systems through the coming decade, with expenditures more than doubling from a current  orldwide level of about $4.9 billion per annum to more than $11.5 billion.

And despite increasing global interest in the technology, the report also predicts the U.S. will be responsible for 76% of all RDT spending on UAV technology and about 58% of all procurement through 2020.

 

Remainder of Article at Aerospace America

Click Here to see UAV World Chart 2011