While European armed forces will steadily increase spending on unmanned air vehicles, the market for civil UAVs is potentially huge - if European companies can learn to exploit it, predicts consultancy Frost & Sullivan.

In the next 10 years, European governments will spend €5.5 billion ($6.9 billion) on UAVs, led by projects such as the Northrop Grumman/EADS EuroHawk. This figure could grow sharply if the UK government casts the future of the Eurofighter Typhoon programme into doubt by reducing its order for 232 aircraft; in this case, Frost & Sullivan's report predicts, spending on armed UAVs would increase, with unmanned combat air vehicles (UCAV) entering service in Europe after 2012.

Europe's UAV spending will continue to be far lower than in the USA. Between 2002 and 2009, European armed forces will spend €3.68 billion on UAVs, while the USA plans to spend $15 billion in the same period, and "in light of recent military developments and the US inclination to use UAVs, it seems that in reality this figure is set to be even higher".

With only a limited military market, European UAV manufacturers, already "lagging behind their US competitors", could look to possible civil and commercial applications such as police and border surveillance and power line inspection, the report suggests. The market for law-enforcement UAVs outside the USA over the next 10 years could be as high as €740 million, and power line inspection could represent a €410 million market over the same period.

But these markets have different concerns from the military sector, and manufacturers will have to get used to putting a commercial case for their products, and offering full-service packages rather than simply vehicles.

Civil customers such as police forces will be closer in organisation to the military than private-sector customers, and police requirements are close to the existing military surveillance mission. If manufacturers can offer low-cost versions of existing military products, this could be an easier area to approach, Frost & Sullivan says.

Source: Flight International