There are a lot of things that SpaceX has done in recent years that are absolutely marvelous. The company has quickly come to dominate the launch services industry with its Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy partially reusable rockets. In 2020, the company successfully launched a record 26 times, vastly outpacing any other rocket program, including Chinese and Russian ones. Falcon left other American launch programs in the dust long ago.
The largest market in our ten-year UAV EO/IR forecast will be for UCAVs (Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicles) and the greatest growth will be for small UAVs, admittedly from low levels today and with few program of record funding lines in unclassified DoD documents. We see development and production of increasingly sophisticated sensors for smaller tactical and mini/nano-UAVs, with a continuing “trickle down” of large-UAV sensor capabilities to small UAVs.
Electro-Optical/Infrared (EO/IR) sensors are still the default sensor for the vast majority of UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles). UAV EO/IR system funding increased rapidly in the decade after 9/11, with some growth continuing in recent years. But the financial crisis of 2008, proposed budget cuts, and sequestration resulted in several years of up-and-down funding, and considerable uncertainty.
The BK.117/145 is a successful joint venture that continues to sell very well for several civil applications. It has a particularly strong EMS presence — just over half of the demand base. Production had been running at a low level — Eurocopter and Kawasaki combined had been building less than one per month until 2007 — but with the 145/C-2 the program has shown signs of a revival. More importantly, it has become one of the lucky platforms to win the great DoD lottery. First, Eurocopter’s decision to develop the C-2/EC 145 version was rewarded by a French Interior Ministry order for 32, the biggest single BK.117 order ever.
The new European regulation established three categories, which are based on risk. In the easiest ‘open’ category UAS operators with less operational risk can carry out an operation without authorization. The second ‘specific’ category is a category of UAS operation that, considering the risks involved, requires an authorization by the authority before the operation occurs that considers the mitigation measures identified in an operational risk assessment.
Legacy UAV systems will remain in service, in demand, and funded for sensor upgrades, while new UAVs and new UAV sensors – from expensive, stealthy A2/AD-capable systems to much more capable and expensive sensors for thousands of small tactical/mini/nano-UAVs – will result in continuing EO/IR market growth, at least in the near-term.
The SLS program, which began in 2010, is several years behind schedule and by 2021 the cost of developing the rocket will reach close to $19 billion. NASA had expected final cost of the rocket to total just over $17 billion.
Consumer UAS will continue to grow but its most explosive growth is behind it. It is a much more mature market that has lost some of its novelty and technological innovations that will attract buyers are becoming fewer. Still, the market will continue to expand for several more years thanks to new technological developments and a wider range of product offerings. Moreover, there promises to be considerable crossover between the consumer and the commercial UAS markets. Some consumer drones are used for low-end commercial tasks such as real estate.