ST. LOUIS — The unmanned aircraft market will shrink once U.S. troops complete their scheduled withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2014, said Boeing Military Aircraft President Christopher Chadwick.
Boeing analysts expect the UAV market to shrink by 20 percent in 2014, Chadwick said. That’s not to say military aviation will return to manned aircraft and shirk the advances seen the past five years in growing unmanned fleets.
Chadwick expects U.S. Air Force leaders to keep pursuing the development of more drones, especially ones to support persistent intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions.
The U.S. Navy recently stood up its first Fire Scout squadron. Navy leaders also continue to develop the Unmanned Combat Air System to fly off air craft carriers.
Marine Corps leaders have made major investments in pursuit of a cargo drone. The Corps has deployed Lockheed Martin’s K-MAX drone to positive reviews thus far. The Army has watched the development of the K-MAX closely.
What has changed is military leaders have a better idea of what drones they want to fly. To meet combat demands, the services rushed a range of drones to Iraq and Afghanistan to test which ones would prove most effective.
“The customer is starting to define where they need [UAVs],” Chadwick said.
Afghanistan and Iraq provided the U.S. military two arenas to test unmanned aircraft and how the services plan to use them, Chadwick explained. Following the end of the withdrawal in 2014, the operational test arena will disappear and drones orders will decrease.
Many defense analysts have suggested that drones could redefine electronic attack aircraft. Chadwick questions whether the services will be willing to fly electronic attacks without pilots on board.
The U.S. Navy is transitioning from the EA-6B Prowler to the EA-18 Growler. A Prowler has a crew of one pilot and three electronic countermeasure officers. A Growler has a crew of two consisting of a pilot and an electronic warfare officer.
“It took a decade to convince the Navy to go from four to two and then to go unmanned, we’ll see,” Chadwick said.
The issue is information management. Navy leaders believe an electronic attack aircraft still needs to have people on board, especially an electronic warfare officer.
“No one has cracked the code of data analytics yet,” Chadwick said.