China to Lead World in Drone Production
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China to Lead World in Drone Production

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A state-owned Chinese defense company will be the largest unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) manufacturer over the next decade, according to a new industry forecast.

This week Forecast International, a private market researcher, published a forecast of the global UAV market over the next decade. The report predicts that the global drone market will more than double in the next ten years, rising from $942 million in 2014 to an annual $2.3 billion in 2023.

The expansion in the global drone market will be driven by increased costs rather than larger production. Indeed, Forecast International expects annual drone production to taper off by 2017, dropping from 1,000 systems this year to roughly 960 systems each year starting in 2017 and continuing through the rest of the decade.

The report forecasts that the Aviation Industry Corporation of China (AVIC), a state-owned Chinese defense company, will lead the world in UAV production. According to Forecast International, AVIC will produce about $5.76 billion worth of UAVs through 2023. This is more than half of the UAVs by value that will be produced during this time period. Nearly all these will be sold to Chinese consumers.

AVIC and its subsidiaries already produce a number of UAVs for the Chinese market. As Avionics Intelligence explains, “AVIC manufacturers a wide range of UAVs, including its electrically powered micro air vehicle (MAV), the jet-powered LIEOE, which appears almost identical to the Northrop Grumman RQ-4 Global Hawk, for reconnaissance, surveillance, and attack missions, the AVIC Sky Eye, an electrically unmanned helicopter designed to be deployed by artillery or rocket round, for reconnaissance and targeting, and the TL-8 Sky Dragon for simulating cruise missiles for Chinese military.”

China has also indicated how it might deploy its growing drone fleet on a couple of occasions. For example, last year state media outlets reported that Beijing had considered conducting a drone strike somewhere in the Golden Triangle to eliminate a Myanmar drug dealer who was wanted in China. It later decided to capture him alive.

Similarly, around the time of the one year anniversary of Japan’s nationalization of the Senkaku Islands in September 2012, Japanese authorities announced they had scrambled aircraft in response to a then-unidentified UAV flying in the vicinity of the islands. China later confirmed that the UAV belonged to it and said it had been on a routine mission. In the weeks following the UAV flight, Japanese media began reporting that the government in Tokyo was studying plans to shoot down foreign UAVs that entered into its airspace. China later said it would consider such a move as an act of war.

In this week’s report, Forecast International said that after AVIC, Northrop Grumman would be the largest UAV producer during the next decade. According to the forecast, Northrop Grumman — which produces the RQ-4B Global Hawk and the U.S. Navy’s MQ-4C Triton — will manufacture $2.58 billion worth of UAVs through 2023.

Altogether, Forecast International analysts say, “some 41,800 land- and sea-based unmanned systems worth about $10.5 billion are forecast for production during the 2014-2023.”

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