The unmanned aerial vehicles market was valued at USD 30,601.14 million in 2020, and it is projected to register a CAGR of 8.48% during the forecast period (2021-2026).
Since UAV procurement is a direct proponent of the sanctioned annual defense budget of the nations, COVID-19 has had a moderate impact on the market in focus. The ongoing global economic slowdown is anticipated to result in a subsequent decline in defense spending on a short-term basis. However, due to existing regulations and controls, major US-based military manufacturers are less likely to bear the impact of the wider supply chain disruption caused by the pandemic. However, companies located in Asia-Pacific and South America are more vulnerable to supply chain disruptions and are envisioned to face operational constraints and high financial risk exposure due to supply chain bottlenecks. The nature of the supply chain and resourcing patterns of the defense technology industry base (DTIB) are also envisioned to affect production, as production queues with branched-out supply chains are more likely to face supply-side constraints.
The growing realization of UAV deployment in military operations has encouraged vendors to offer UAVs that can be used in numerous commercial applications. UAVs are also being adopted in other applications, including internet provision in remote places, aerial photography and video recording, survey and document wildlife, and public service missions. Several companies primarily offer small-UAVs that are used in agricultural, aerial photography, and data collection applications. Besides, in the military domain, unmanned combat aerial vehicles (UCAVs) are considered low-cost alternatives to combat aircraft, and they provide less collateral damage than missiles or aerial bombing deployed from manned aircraft. However, the growth of the UAV market can be hindered by technological and legal constraints such as limited endurance, SWaP and bandwidth challenges, and the presence of non-uniform laws and regulations that can restrict the usage of such systems in the airspace of certain countries.
Key Market Trends
The Civil and Commercial Segment is Expected to Dominate the Market During the Forecast Period
The commercial drone sector has witnessed a high growth rate with numerous technological innovations. Miniaturization and COTS technologies are providing low-cost products for even the smallest UAVs in the market, leading to a procurement spree of mini- and micro UAVs by commercial operators. The vendors are primarily offering small UAVs for agricultural, aerial photography, and data collection applications. Full-sized UAVs such as the Chinese CH-4 are also being deployed for geological surveying, ocean monitoring, meteorological observation, and forest fire prevention missions. Home deliveries via drones have become a reality due to the efforts of logistics and retail companies such as Amazon and UPS toward rolling out the technology. As commercial drones can travel at up to 100 mph and deliver goods under 5 lbs (2.3 kg), the delivery mechanism is expected to decrease the delivery time and associated costs. To prepare the ground rules that will allow the flight of the delivery drones and other commercial unmanned craft, the FAA has put forward recommendations for governance of delivery drones. The recommendations include requirements that all delivery drones need to be equipped with tracking hardware that would allow each delivery copter to be identified. Operators would also be required to furnish details on the technology being used to track and relay instructions to the drones. Other recommendations include airspace management rules, such as permissible operational height below 2,500 feet, away from airports, sports events, and landmarks, and a "Trusted Operator System" that would exempt some commercial drone operators that use the craft for security and surveillance. To enhance the performance parameters of commercial UAVs, manufacturers are adopting alternative power sources for attaining long-duration flights. Technology giants such as Google and Facebook have acquired firms such as Titan Aerospace and Ascenta, respectively, to facilitate the development of UAV technologies and create a worldwide network that can offer internet access in rural areas. Such developments are anticipated to drive the adoption of UAVs by the civil and commercial end users.
Asia-Pacific to Witness Highest Growth During the Forecast Period
During the forecast period, Asia-Pacific is expected to witness the highest growth rate, owing to the expansion of defense capabilities in key countries such as China, India, Japan, and South Korea. The paradigm shift in favor of unmanned systems reflects the military’s general tendency to be at par with the most advanced technology available and perceptions of the emergence of asymmetrical warfare. The development of home-grown UAVs is likely to increase due to the rising initiatives for indigenous aerospace platforms, which would significantly boost the UAV market in Asia-Pacific. The increase in the number of initiatives undertaken by OEMs toward indigenous development in the field of UAVs is expected to boost the adoption rate of the technology through easier access to low-cost UAVs. The technology is expected to have significant implications for a myriad of industries, ranging from public safety to farming automation, from disaster relief to infrastructure maintenance. Countries such as China, India, and Pakistan have been upgrading their respective inventories of military UAVs. Collaborative efforts are underway by dominant market players to capture the high growth potential of the market. For instance, in March 2016, the Indian Ministry of Defense (MoD) announced its intentions to acquire over 5,000 UAVs worth nearly USD 3 billion over the next decade. This has resulted in Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) partnering with Bengaluru-based Dynamatic Technologies and Elcom Systems to cater to the production, assembly, and support of UAVs in India. As of October 2020, India's indigenously developed Rustom-II MALE UAV prototype has been undergoing flight tests for making design changes to enhance its flight capabilities. Rustom-2 can carry different combinations of payloads depending on the mission objectives, including synthetic aperture radar, electronic intelligence systems, and situational awareness systems. It has a satellite communication link to relay situations in the battle theatre on a real-time basis.
Thales Group, Elbit Systems Ltd, Israel Aerospace Industries Ltd., Northrop Grumman Corporation, and BAE Systems PLC are some of the largest players in the market studied. The unmanned aerial vehicles market is highly competitive and is marked by the presence of many prominent players competing for a larger market share. The stringent safety and regulatory policies in the defense and homeland security segment are expected to restrict the entry of new players. However, the commercial and civil segment is expected to witness rapid growth due to the entry of many players as the segment is not governed by economies of scale. Companies with superior technical capabilities are expected to contribute significantly toward technological advances in the propulsion systems and payload characteristics of UAVs. This would result in a shorter development cycle time and can significantly augment the operational capabilities of mini-UAVs. Since the payload, endurance, and flight range of a UAV platform are the primary concerns of OEMs and operators alike, the emergence of alternative fuel-powered UAVs is expected to cause significant changes in the competitive scenario. Moreover, the use of composite-based materials for the construction of critical components and parts of UAVs would likely increase the capabilities of the UAV platforms and fuel their widespread adoption across different industries.
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