Drones are here to stay

Marine Corps mortar range event at Camp Lejeune, N.C., Jan. 17, 2023. (Image credit: Marine Corps)

Although the military’s use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) goes back some 30 years, drones have recently shot up the priorities list.

The past ten years have seen military use cases for UAVs multiply from very specific mission profiles to… well, now there seems to be a drone for everything! Meanwhile, the strategic importance of drones in conflict has been demonstrated in the clearest terms, by both sides in the Russia-Ukraine war.

According to Fortune Business Insights, the global military drone market is expected to reach $14.4 billion this year and grow to $35.6 billion by 2030 (at a CAGR of 14.10%), spurred on by both the example of and the actual usage in, the Ukraine war. The diverse uses of UAVs, from Personal Reconnaissance Systems (PRS) able to help soldiers see around the next corner, through to Protector RG Mk1 long-range combat UAVs, capable of carrying 500 pounds of Paveway IV laser-guided bombs and Brimstone 3 ultra-high precision missiles.

Defence departments around the world now have UAVs on their shopping lists, and for a number of reasons. UAVs can be deployed to strengthen existing capabilities; they can be deployed to extend the reach of conventional forces, on land, in the air, on the sea, and underwater; they can be used to dramatically increase the amount of data available to command centres; and they can also be used as a lower cost alternative to airplanes, marine vessels and land vehicles. The usage and increased availability of military UAVs is also changing offensive and defensive strategies.

Increased demand, increased variety and continuing technological advances also mean that more countries are now developing the capacity to manufacturer UAVs at home, providing a boost to national defence industries. Turkish defence contractor Baykar unveiled its first military UAV in 2006 and now it’s $5 million Bayraktar TB2 drone has become a best seller in Africa, the Middl East and Eastern Europe. Meanwhile, Abu Dhabi’s Edge Group has invested heavily in UAV development since its formation in 2019 and launched a wide range of UAVs at the Dubai Airshow this month.

Although it’s possible to manufacture basic drones on the cheap, it is the technological advances such as swarming, manned-unmanned teaming and autonomous operation, that ensure the UAVs place in future conflicts.

by Carrington Malin