Unmanned Ground Vehicles (UGV) represent a tiny proportion of vehicle inventories globally but replacing and complementing manned vehicles with unmanned systems is a powerful opportunity. As yet, it has not been defined how the technology will be best utilized or how new systems will be integrated into force structures. According to Frost & Sullivan, in the five-to-ten-year timeframe there will be only a limited proliferation of unmanned technology into the market.
“Currently, the US is at the forefront in terms of integration and acquisition of unmanned systems into its military land vehicle fleet,” said Program Manager, Aerospace, Defence & Security, Richard Hilton. ”But even the US has dramatically scaled back its intent to integrate unmanned systems in line with wider cut backs and defence sequestration. Moreover, there are no really significant procurement programs for UGVs in any other region.”
The commercial automotive industry is leading the way in unmanned vehicle systems. Commercial vehicle manufacturers with a significant defence-industry footprint may be able to migrate technology into military vehicles once costs are driven down through increasingly accessible commercial supply. Developments in the commercial sector could provide the tipping point for mass integration of some form of unmanned systems technology in less than ten years with the majority of vehicle fleets, particularly in the application of logistics, having an optional unmanned capability or semi-autonomy, adapting technology from commercial innovations to improve vehicle safety.
“It is interesting to see the parallels between the developments in the unmanned vehicle segment in which lessons could be learned for the wider military vehicles market,” added Hilton. “Technology integration through Commercial off- the-shelf (COTS) may become key in all segments and is of growing interest to end users seeking to de-risk technology integration.” If these systems are proven commercially, easily trained on, and easily maintained, it becomes much easier to assimilate them into operational structures and concepts.
To date, military vehicle manufactures seem reluctant to invest heavily in unmanned systems research and development whilst end users are focused on a more-limited set of procurement objectives in the present-day fiscal climate. The real opportunity in the application of unmanned systems may well lie in the ability to assimilate effective C4ISR systems to maximize the low-cost platform availability and exploit 24-hr persistence as seen in the air domain.
“For now, in the upcoming five to ten years, there will be only a limited growth of unmanned technology into the market. Perhaps, in five years, semi-autonomous appliqué add-ons to vehicles will begin the transformative process thanks to commercial advancements, providing the much-needed catalyst to trigger greater exploitation of promising potential,” summarised Hilton.
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