Academic journal article Current Politics and Economics of the United States, Canada and Mexico

Unmanned Aircraft Systems (Uas): Manufacturing Trends*

Academic journal article Current Politics and Economics of the United States, Canada and Mexico

Unmanned Aircraft Systems (Uas): Manufacturing Trends*

Article excerpt


Unmanned aircraft systems (UAS)1 represent a bright spot for the technology-intensive aerospace manufacturing sector, but military and civil government agencies will likely be the predominant customers for an extended period while such systems are integrated into the U.S. National Airspace System (-national airspace"). Airspace access by commercial UAS users is projected to be much slower than for governmental entities.2 The U.S. Department of Defense (DOD), the major user of such systems, has demonstrated their effectiveness in Iraq and Afghanistan, but continued development of new systems and capabilities depends on access to the national airspace. DOD has made such access a priority, and the 112th Congress directed that federal agencies collaborate in accelerating the integration of UAS into the national airspace.3

Other nations also confront issues related to airspace access, and commonality of standards has been raised as an issue for international discussion.

The development and manufacture of UAS for use by public entities (i.e., federal, state, or local governments, and by public universities) and commercial4 users are expected to grow over the next few years, but numerous regulatory and technical issues remain to be resolved before government agencies or commercial operators can begin routine flight operations in the national airspace. Concerns about the safety of unmanned aircraft and UAS operations in congested airspace and over populated areas may slow industry growth. A major issue for all UAV operations, whether in crowded commercial airspace or contested battlefield airspace, is the development of sense, detect, and avoid technologies that will provide the same level of collision avoidance as manned aircraft.5 Privacy concerns have also been raised about the widespread use of UAV by government and business.6

The Department of Defense Remains the Key Driver of UAS7

Sales of UAS equipment have been driven primarily by military needs in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other countries where terrorist groups were or are active. The scheduled withdrawal of most troops from Afghanistan by 2014 has reportedly led to an intensification of UAS use to protect remaining forces.8 In April 2012, DOD reported that it had more than 7,100 UAS in its inventory.9 In its Unmanned Systems Integrated Roadmap FY2011-2036, DOD outlined its efforts to consolidate and streamline the UAS fleets it had acquired quickly as wartime needs rose.

The report emphasized that in a highly constrained fiscal environment, -unmanned systems [must] be affordable at the outset and not experience significant cost growth in their development and production evolution."10 The President's FY2013 budget requested $3.8 billion for UAS acquisition, down from $4.8 billion in FY2012.11 A June 2011 analysis by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) examined DOD UAS acquisition costs based on DOD's FY2012 budget request, and reported procurement costs for the 2011-2020 period would amount to nearly $37 billion.12

Forecasts for the UAS Market Are Strong

Numerous forecasts project U.S. and global UAS markets will experience strong growth during the next 10 years.13 The Teal Group's forecast of UAS demand shows worldwide annual spending on research, development, testing, and evaluation (RDT&E) and procurement rising from $6.6 billion in 2013 to $11.4 billion in 2022. Total worldwide spending for the period is forecast to amount to $89.1 billion. Throughout the forecast period, Teal expects the U.S. share of RDT&E to account for 62% of worldwide spending, while U.S. procurement will amount to 55% of worldwide spending. According to Teal, UAS procurement will mirror demand for high-tech arms procurement in the Asia-Pacific region and in Europe14 (see Figure 1.)

U.S. aerospace and defense manufacturing firms have a significant lead in military UAS, but Israel is also a strong competitor. …

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