Demand for Maritime UAVs to remain sky high into 2018

article by Richard de Silva

A new market research report released by Reportlinker indicates that the global unmanned aerial vehicles market is set to reach $8.35 billion by 2018.

The “Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) Market (2013 – 2018)” report cited a compound annual growth rate of 3.3 per cent, with tactical UAVs (TUAVs) having already seen the highest activity.

However, it is stated that the highest business potential lies in the hands of high altitude long endurance (HALE), medium altitude long endurance (MALE) and Small (SUAVs) systems, commonly used for maritime reconnaissance.
Running alongside this trend is anticipation that solar powered UAVs will receive huge focus for research and development.

UK plumps for ScanEagle
Here in the UK, the Royal Navy has been on top of the trend and this week announced a £30 million deal for Boeing’s ScanEagle.
Built by Boeing Defence UK subsidiary, Insitu, the unmanned aircraft has a wingspan of 3 metres and weights 22 kilograms and can be launched from navy vessels using a pneumatic catapult. The ScanEagle will aid the Royal Navy in its surveillance operations and has the capability to analyse the data it collects through a sensor system.
The ScanEagle is the first maritime-specific unmanned air system capability to be delivered in support of naval operations. It may herald the beginning of a new wave of maritime-based unmanned air systems as surveillance technologies continue to improve and the demand for gather data intensifies.
Royal Navy Captain Ian Annett, who was involved with the project, said: “ScanEagle represents an important addition to the Royal Navy’s intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capability. Its ability to deploy during the day and night, coupled with the technology it uses, will give commanders a clearer picture of the operational situation whenever it’s required.”
Philip Dunne, the Minister for Defence Equipment, Support and Technology, said that the investment in ScanEagle is part of a wider effort on the part of the MoD to bolster Britain’s ISR capabilities.
“Our continued investment in intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance systems is essential to keeping our Armed Forces up-to-date with the latest capabilities and this will be a central part of MOD’s investment in new equipment over the next 10 years.”
Developments worldwide
Elsewhere in the world, maritime surveillance UAVs have seen remarkable attention from forces as emerging areas of interest centre on the naval space. Securing shipping lanes, offshore resources, environmental surveillance and access-and-denial are just a few of the major concerns that most feel will continue to benefit from a more consistent unmanned surveillance effort, particularly as costs for these platforms decrease over time.
India has a growing UAV fleet, with Gemini-2 systems now being successfully tested in exercises coordinated with naval patrol boats and coastal police. Meanwhile, its ground-based Search MK II TUAV and Heron MALE are comprising a comprehensive maritime observation network, with integration across other surface and air assets, as well as with civilian fishermen and digital cameras installed across 90 light houses along the nation’s coast.

Australia is also pushing for a $3 billion investment in the MQ-4C Triton to provide a network of broad area maritime surveillance. Triton is still in development but will cruise for 30 hours up to a height of 60,000 metres and offer a sensor suite that includes infrared and optical lenses to cover a . It successfully undertook its first flight in May.

The United States Navy will of course be the primary user of Triton, presently looking to build 70 in total and integrating the UAV with the incoming manned P-8A Poseidon MPA and the TacMobile ground support system. Australian investment in Triton could therefore make sense as the nation is already contracted to acquire the P-8 in the coming years.
US Naval personnel are meanwhile training allies in the Asia-Pacific region, including the Philippines, in how to use UAVs. Deployment of SUAVs is seen as a potential fix to a lack of resources by many nations in the region, whereby far more extensive surveillance coverage can otherwise be ensured at far less cost, albeit with limited reliability.

Back in Europe, Spain is building confidence in the unmanned capability by demonstrating in recent weeks the versatility of its IAI Heron 1 MALE for both military and civilian authorities. Combining the support of the European Space Agency (ESA) and the European Defence Agency (EDA), demonstrations based in Murcia-San Javier, the Heron displayed its maritime patrol capabilities to both Air Force and Guardia Civil observers.
A programme labelled DeSIRE (Demonstration of Satellites enabling the Insertion of RPAs in Europe) led by Spanish firm Indra was also shown to tackle hazard issues of UAVs operating within civilian airspace, where it avoided any disruption of satellite communications and demonstrated evasiveness when placed on crash trajectories with other aircraft.

Italy, which this year celebrates 100 years of naval aviation, is looking to back the P.1HH Hammerhead – an unmanned variant of its P.180 aircraft – to replace the Reaper, as well as to potentially provide the common European MALE programme. There is currently an Italian requirement for 10 MALE UAVs and US restrictions on arming the current assets are leading defence ministers to lean towards an alternative.
A brand new entry into the market, the Hammerhead is primarily built for ISR and offers twin engines, automatic takeoff, an operational ceiling of 45,000 feet and endurance of 16 hours. Aside to being all weather capable and compliant with STANAG USAR 4671, it incorporates a Seaspray 7300 radar and SkyISTAR mission management system. Stakeholders are banking on the attractiveness of a relatively lower pricetag.

Concurrently, Alenia Aermacchi has joined forces with Dassault and EADS Cassidian to make a case to European governments to develop a joint European UAV programme office, but as the Italian company has yet to pitch a UAV for consideration, ministers are eager to fill the gap quickly with something available on the market now.

Appropriately, Italy will also be the host of this year’s annual Maritime Reconnaissance and Surveillance conference, which will take place in Rome from September 24.

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