Europe's shambolic efforts to create an unmanned-aircraft industry to rival the U.S. and Israel continue. But while the defense ministers of several nations have taken steps towards developing a European medium-altitude, long-endurance UAS by 2022, the tricky task of persuading the region's industrial rivals to work together is only beginning. Even China looks as though it could outpace Europe.
The region's stumbling progress is an opportunity for U.S. manufacturers to export their systems and offset the cutbacks in Pentagon UAS procurement, but the potential is limited by the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) treaty, which bars the sale of UAS with payloads of 500 kg. or more without a hard-to-get waiver from the government.
But even as U.S. defense spending slows, the UAS market is expected to grow. The military market for surveillance and strike missions will be worth $67.3 billion from 2013-20, Forecast International projects. Of that total, $35.6 billion will be for production, $28.7 billion for research and development, and $2-3 billion for UAS services contracts. The production value is divided between air vehicles ($14.2 billion), ground control stations ($6.6 billion) and payloads ($14.8 billion).
Despite cuts to the U.S. Air Force's RQ-4B Global Hawk program, Northrop Grumman will be the top player in the UAS market. Even with reductions in the USAF fleet, the Global Hawk program will be worth some $5.8 billion to Northrop through 2022, including the U.S. Navy's 68-aircraft MQ-4C Triton program. Germany canceled plans to buy four Block 20-based EuroHawks in May 2013, citing airspace integration issues, but work to deliver five Block 40s to NATO by 2016 is continuing.
Efforts to export the high-altitude, long-endurance UAS are progressing slowly. South Korea intends to order four RQ-4B Block 30s in 2014. Japan could follow with four in 2015. Canada and Norway are among nations eyeing the Global Hawk, while Australia has declared an interest in the maritime-surveillance Triton.
Northrop will also garner $679.5 million by 2022 from its MQ-8 Fire Scout vertical-takeoff-and-landing (VTOL) UAS program. Flight tests of the 6,000-lb. gross-weight, extended-endurance MQ-8C, based on the Bell 407 helicopter, began in October 2013 and production is switching to the bigger variant.
For now, navies are the main military customer for VTOL systems. Ground forces are showing interest, but programs are moving more slowly. Europe is moving less slowly in small rotary-wing UAS than in fixed-wing. Saab's 520-lb. Skeldar V-200 is operational with the Spanish navy and Scheibel's 440-lb. Camcopter S-100 has been sold to four countries and tested by several navies.