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16 Aug 04. More unmanned air vehicles will be bought in the next 10 years than in the previous four decades combined, according to a recent analysis by Forecast International. “The Market for UAV Reconnaissance Systems Through 2013” predicts that the world’s military forces will spend $11 billion procuring reconnaissance/surveillance unmanned air vehicles (UAVs) through 2013.

“The U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, as well as military operations in Afghanistan, has helped to raise the profile of unmanned air vehicles to heights undreamed of just a few years ago,” said Larry Dickerson, senior unmanned vehicle analyst at Forecast International. “Program managers in the United States have said for the first time they are actually getting more money than requested. Around the world, planned funding for UAVs is skyrocketing and a greater number of production orders are being awarded than ever in the history of this market,” Dickerson said.

More than 6,000 UAVs are expected to be purchased over the next 10 years by countries in every region of the world. “Our analysis does not include funding for RDT&E and operations and maintenance, but as procurement increases money spent in these areas is also likely to increase,” said Dickerson.

The Pentagon plans to spend billions on UAV research and procurement through 2013, which is helping U.S. defense firms to dominate this market. U.S. companies will control more than 50 percent of this market’s total value and produce far more air vehicles, ground control stations and payloads than any of their competitors. The leading firms will be Northrop Grumman (maker of the Global Hawk) and General Atomics (which provides the Predator).

While Europe cannot hope to match this figure, the continent could spend over EUR1 billion on procurement and a similar (or possibly higher) figure on research and development. Europe is determined to expand its UAV fleet. Presently, European companies control just 5 percent of this market’s value, but this share is expected to grow in the future as new contracts are issued. Recently, Thales was selected as the prime contractor for the Watchkeeper UAV program. This contract is worth over $1 billion.

“Operation Iraqi Freedom and its counterpart in Afghanistan have drawn more attention to unmanned air vehicles than 30 years of lobbying by their supporters,” said Dickerson. “Yet despite all the attention and increases in funding, the UAV market is still in its infancy, with a truly massive expansion in procurement not expected until after 2010,” he said. “But be warned, a specific path for this market has not been set and the enthusiasm that UAVs currently enjoy could dissipate as quickly as it arose,” said Dickerson.

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