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December 24, 2021updated 07 Jan 2022 9:44am

Drones for Maritime Operation: Macroeconomic trends

By GlobalData Thematic Research

The global military unmanned aircraft vehicle (UAV) market is expected to be worth $15.9bn by 2031. The demand for UAVs will be driven by internal and external security threats, territorial disputes, and modernisation initiatives undertaken by armed forces across the world.

Listed below are the key macroeconomic trends impacting the drones for maritime operation  theme, as identified by GlobalData.


Accounting for more than 70% of the global drone market, the government segment, comprising of military and law enforcement agencies, was the key demand generator for drones in 2018. Ranging in size from Flir’s Black Hornet UAV, which is just a few centimetres in length, to Northrop Grumman’s 40-meter winged Global Hawk, military forces have been using drones in reconnaissance and to perform operational tasks for over a decade.

Primarily used to conduct intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) activities, military UAVs are currently being developed for a wide range of uses such as electronic attack (EA), strike missions, destruction of enemy air defences (SEAD), network nodes, communication relays, and combat search and rescue (CSAR). Demand for UAVs from military forces will continue to grow as the number of potential applications of drone technologies increases.


Drone manufacturers, component suppliers, software integrators, and prospective enterprise users all share a vested interest in collaboration in order to promote the adoption of drone technology. The commercial deployment of drones beyond pilot studies and proof-of-concept projects is held back by the sluggish pace at which regulations are being defined and adapted.

This creates a common cause for multiple organisations to work together to influence the pace and direction of public policy with respect to drone technology. For instance, Sharper Shape partnered with the Edison Electric Institute (EEI) to develop and demonstrate commercial drones beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) flights for electric companies. Additionally, Boeing’s acquisition of Near Earth Autonomy and Aurora Flight Sciences for autonomous UAV development and AirMap’s collaboration with IBM’s The Weather Company to provide hyperlocal weather information to drone pilots show the importance of collaboration and partnership.

In the US, technology leaders such as Verizon, Google, Amazon, and Harris are working under the leadership of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), on a $2.8bn unmanned aircraft system traffic management (UTM) project aiming to harmonise drone traffic in US airspaces, which will enable the commercial application of drones in the country.

Economic risk

Trade war policies have a significant impact on global and national economies. Being used as a political weapon between countries, they feed a downward spiral of measures and countermeasures between opponents, which are not only limited to economic levers but can expand to other areas of international relations. This could potentially result in an escalation due to misperception.

In terms of UAV production, companies are dependent on imports, such as semiconductors, rare earth minerals, and battery technology used in UAVs. The scarcity of these materials could paralyse companies and navies and impact the costs of UAVs.

This is an edited extract from the Drones (Unmanned Aircraft Vehicles) for Maritime Operation – Thematic Research report produced by GlobalData Thematic Research.

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