Emerging Trends in Unarmed Aerial Vehicles

Dr. Angelos Kaskanis

Project Manager - Tactics Institute

The use of unmanned air vehicles[1] is proliferating.

UAVs are used in various sectors ranging from defence to search and rescue, conservation, and agriculture.

But in the defence sector, UAVs are at the forefront of a new arms race. China, the US, and Israel have been the pioneers in the field. However, South Korea, Ukraine, and Turkey are entering the market, with Norway, Canada, and Switzerland also seeking a market share.

Where is the defence market heading?

Historically, the United States has led the development and deployment of armed UAVs, especially following the 9/11 attacks. In recent years, Israeli and Chinese manufacturers have challenged this dominance,[2] seeking to gain footing in a key intelligence gathering and strike capability system.

Market analysts expect to see the global UAV market reach $98 billion over the coming decade. Teal Group project investment in UAV research-and-development and procurement spending to surge from $11.1 billion in 2020 to $14.3 billion by 2029 — an almost 30 percent increase.

R&D spending[3] is forecasted to grow from $3.2 billion in 2020 to $4 billion in 2029, and procurement funding is projected to ramp up from $7.9 billion in 2020 to about $10.3 billion by the end of the decade.

The Eurodrone and the Israeli Heron TP drone

Speedy progress in the Eurodrone[4] programme is occurring due to the defence ministers of Germany and France, who have urged EU member states to commit to the program from its development phase. The programme’s official name is “European MALE RPAS,” which stands for medium-altitude, long-endurance, remotely piloted aircraft system.  

European authorities have not finalised the requisite regulatory framework for UAVs. But the ambition is for the Eurodrone to become the first UAV to fully integrate into civilian airspace. Representatives of the development consortium note that its two-engine propulsion system guarantees a highly secure flying vehicle.

Meanwhile, the German Bundestag is considering its participation in the production of the Israeli-made Heron TP UAV program. The German military has a leasing agreement with Israeli Aerospace Industries, and it is using drones operationally managed by Airbus.

Singed in June 2018, the German-Israeli agreement entails maintenance and training for Air Force personnel from both countries training together in Israel. According to Defence News, the parliamentary debate over whether to engage will be a test case for Germany’s other UAV development programs.

Ukraine eyes joint Venture with Turkey

Beyond Europe, Pakistan, Turkey, Iran, Russia, Taiwan, and India are developing their own independent military UAV programmes.

Kiev’s decision to purchase 48 Turkish Bayraktar Tactical Block 2 (TB2) [5] combat UAVs is seen as the first step towards domestic production led by local defence contractors. The Kiev-based Luch Design Bureau recently unveiled the Sokil-300 (Falcon-300), a strike drone slated to be the first Ukrainian UAV designed and produced exclusively in Ukraine that can be used in the war with separatists in the east.

Suicide Drones and modern warfare

Tactics Institute discussed new trends in the emerging UAV industry with Christos Smilianis, a training manager in the Greek Army. Smilianis notes that so-called loitering munition or “kamikaze drones” are now being developed in several countries, including Israel, China[6] and Turkey.[7] These UAVs are expected to claim the lion’s share in military procurement in years to come.

In January 2018, the Khmeimim Russian airbase was attacked by a swarm[8] of kamikaze-drones. Although the Russians found no trouble in dealing with the threat, it was the first time that a non-state actor had used this kind of weaponry. Less than two years later, a similar attack took place against Aramco’s oil installation causing significant disruption to Saudi oil production.

The philosophy of using this relatively cheap system is to deploy it in swarms in order to saturate enemy air defences, rendering sophisticated and expensive aid defence systems useless. However, the low price and damage these systems can inflict also make them ideal for use in domestic surveillance and terrorist activity. It is unclear whether such systems can remain controlled by state actors alone; furthermore, the use of these systems domestically raises a number of ethical concerns that require extensive exploration.



[1] Unmanned vehicles can be divided into three categories: Unmanned Air Vehicles (UAVs), Unmanned Ground   Vehicles (UGVs) and Unmanned Naval Vessels. The latter category can be further sub-divided into unmanned surface vehicles (USVs) and Unmanned Underwater Vehicles.

[2] George Nacouzi (2018). Assessment of the Proliferation of Certain Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems. [Online] RAND Corporation. Available at: https://www.rand.org/pubs/research_reports/RR2369.html. [Accessed 1 Dec. 2020].

[3] Jon Harper (2020). $98 Billion Expected for Military Drone Market. [Online] National Defense. Available at: https://www.nationaldefensemagazine.org/articles/2020/1/6/98-billion-expected-for-military-drone-market. [Accessed 1 Dec. 2020].

[4] Sebastian Sprenger (2020). German, French defense ministers push for Eurodrone progress. [Online] Defense News. Available at: https://www.defensenews.com/global/europe/2020/09/18/german-french-defense-ministers-push-for-eurodrone-progress/. [Accessed 1 Dec. 2020].


[5] Daily Sabah Staff (2020). Ukraine considers buying 48 Bayraktar TB2 drones from Turkey. [Online] Daily Sabah. Available at: https://www.dailysabah.com/business/defense/ukraine-considers-buying-48-bayraktar-tb2-drones-from-turkey. [Accessed 25 Nov. 2020].

[6] Staff (2020). China Unveils Swarm Drone Technology to Overwhelm Enemy’s Defences. [Online] The Defence Post. Available at: https://www.thedefensepost.com/2020/10/16/china-unveils-swarm-drone-technology/. [Accessed 15 Jan. 2021].

[7] Joseph Trevithick (2020). Turkey Now Has Swarming Suicide Drones It Could Export. [Online] The Drive. Available at: https://www.thedrive.com/the-war-zone/34204/turkey-now-has-a-swarming-quadcopter-suicide-drone-that-it-could-export. [Accessed 15 Jan. 2021].

[8] Michael Safi (2019). Are drone swarms the future of aerial warfare? [Online] The Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/news/2019/dec/04/are-drone-swarms-the-future-of-aerial-warfare. [Accessed 15 Jan. 2021].

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