Another great day at AUVSI here in Las Vegas. One major difference I’ve seen at this show versus last year in Washington, DC, is that there are far less members of the US military present (wondering if other attendees have felt that too?). The DoD placed restrictions on government travel this year and, unfortunately, many of the operators who would have attended in the past were unable to make it. My suggestions for AUVSI – keep it in DC!
Shortly after lunch, I sat in on a panel discussion about current UAV challenges and what industry is doing to develop tomorrow’s solutions.
Maj. Gen. James Poss mentioned how important UAVs and ISR have been to the DoD. He stated that the USAF budget for ISR has increased from 3% in 2001 to 11% in 2012. In addition, he said there has been a 4,300% increase in ISR flight hours since 2001. Much of that is due to the exponential growth the total number of UAVs in the DoD inventory – from 167 in 2007 to over 7,500 today.
Duke Dufrense, sector VP and GM of UAS at Northrop Grumman, stressed the need to increase the amount of foreign military sales (FMS) of UAVs so that overall costs could be reduced. He said that the weaponization of UAVs is one of the primary barriers to increasing FMS. In addition, Duke stated that FMS restrictions are allowing foreign competitors to fill gaps that US UAV OEMs could fill today.
Among all the discussions I’ve had and the presentations I’ve attended, I keep hearing about the many opportunities for civil UAV applications. Although I don’t doubt there is opportunity in this industry, I’m perhaps not as optimistic as others in terms of how quickly and how large the market segment will be in the near-term.
One huge barrier is integrating UAVs into the national airspace. The current timeline is still set for September of 2015, but I’m certainly not alone in thinking that this date is incredibly aggressive. I don’t expect integration until the latter part of this decade.
The second barrier to growing the civil UAV industry is the market itself! In other words, I don’t see a strong demand from industry for civil UAVs. There are certainly a variety of applications — everything from police surveillance to agricultural analysis to oil pipeline monitoring — but, to my knowledge, I have yet to see pull from any one sector that would make a valid business case for civil UAVs.
The day was capped off with Craig Hoover giving a presentation on UAS flight in the national airspace. For a more in-depth look at his content, click on the following link to his white paper.
More to follow as things wrap up.
For real-time information on presentations and discussions, make sure to follow me on Twitter at @MarcLuley.