The global combat aircraft market could be robust in the coming decade with the industry generating total revenue of $493.14 billion between 2017 and 2026.

The combat aircraft market was worth $45.75 billion in 2017 and is expected to grow at a 0.3% compound annual growth rate to 2026 when it will be worth a projected $47.2 billion, according to a forecast by Frost and Sullivan.

About 35% of future contract opportunities will be modernisation programmes, such as AESA radar, active protection systems, electronic countermeasure systems, and electronic warfare oriented upgrades, according to the report. The rest will be procurement opportunities, mostly the purchase of so-called 4.5+ and 5th generation aircraft.

Some modernisation opportunities are being partly driven by new threats on the battlefield. For example, Russia recently lost a Sukhoi Su-25 aircraft in Syria, presumably to a shoulder-launched surface-to-air missile, the report notes. Aircraft deployed in war zones thus are being upgraded with active protection systems to ensure protection against heat-seeking warheads. Moreover, older protection systems composed of radar warning systems and manual chaff dispensers are being replaced with automated ones incorporating multispectral sensors, says the report.

Other technologies likely to have a more prominent place in the combat aircraft market over the coming decade include integrated suites of sensors, sensor data fusion, digital cockpits that use haptic touch screens and are aided by artificial intelligence software, and fine-tuned stealth materials.

F-35As Hornets - Commonwealth of Australia

Royal Australian Air Force Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II with Boeing F/A-18 Super Hornet


When it comes to aircraft buying the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II is projected to be dominate for the next 20 years with nearly 3,000 aircraft to be delivered to the USA and the aircraft’s other international development partners, as well as foreign military sales customers. The F-35 isn’t likely to face market competition from other 5th generation fighters until the late 2020s, says the report.

The combat inventories of Middle Eastern countries, except for Turkey and Israel, might remain non-stealthy for at least half a decade, the report adds.

Many air forces will focus on buying jack-of-all-trades combat aircraft – multirole fighters – which are capable of changing roles when required. These air forces are reducing the number of different, specialised aircraft types in their inventory, such as air superiority fighters, which are expensive to maintain and operate.

“There is high demand for multirole fighters,” the report says. “With budget constraints and increasing unit cost of aircraft, countries will find it hard to afford a large fleet with multiple mission-specific aircraft, particularly considering the diverse logistic requirements.”

Some poorer nations that cannot afford modern Western multirole aircraft, such as the Boeing F/A-18 Super Hornet or Lockheed Martin F-16 Fighting Falcon, are procuring Chinese alternatives like the CAC/PAC JF-17 Thunder.

“China, through a combination of low-cost platforms, aggressive marketing and flexible payment mechanisms, is consolidating in markets such as Africa and Central & South America,” the report says.

Russian fighters are the other low-cost alternative.

“Russian fighters will continue to be preferred by many due to their relative lower price tags and lesser operational cost,” the report says. “However, serviceability and spare supply issues are already affecting their market potential.”