This story is from the category Artificial Intelligence
Date posted: 25/07/2010
Pilotless drones, remote-controlled military aircraft destined to play a vital role in combat, took a high-profile place at the Farnborough air show this week.
With unmanned aircraft already being used by NATO forces in Afghanistan for intelligence-gathering but also increasingly in an offensive role, aerospace manufacturers at Farnborough reported brisk sales last year.
Although defence budgets worldwide are being squeezed this year by the fragile economic recovery, companies and analysts said they expected sales of drones to slow less than in other defence aviation sectors.
One machine with a potentially strong commercial future is US defence group Northrop Grumman's Global Hawk, a high-altitude Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV), seen as a potential replacement for the venerable U-2 spy plane.
"The planned date (for U-2 decommissioning) is by 2012, but it is unlikely the U-2 will just drop dead. More likely there will be a draw-down," Northrop Grumman's Director of Business Development Ed Walby told AFP at the Farnborough show near London, a key get-together in the aviation world.
Northrop claimed at the show to have clocked up total sales of 33.8 billion dollars in 2009.
But in a sign of the growing importance of unmanned aircraft, it expected the sector to account for around 3.5 billion dollars of sales in the next 10 years.
However, with drones playing an increasingly prominent role in warfare, some manufacturers forecast that sales of unmanned aircraft would remain buoyant despite the pressure governments are under to cut defence spending.
US consultancy Forecast International's senior unmanned systems analyst Larry Dickerson predicts the market for UAV procurement will be worth almost 18 billion dollars by 2018.
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