The global target drone market size was valued at USD 4,895.71 million in 2022. It is estimated to reach USD 10,431.52 million by 2031, growing at a CAGR of 8.77% during the forecast period (2023–2031).
Target drones are a subclass of remote-controlled unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) used for weapon system testing and evaluation, counter-artillery operations, and simulating real-world air combat training for anti-aircraft crews. It contributes to the increase in battle readiness among the nation's defense forces by offering the dependability, performance, and cost-effectiveness of various weapons, training, and jobs. The shape and size of drones used for multiple purposes can vary, but the most crucial factor is that the main parts (battery, micro-motor, controller, sensors) are essentially the same.
Drones built with smartphone components have seen a drop in price and an increase in consumer and commercial accessibility due to investments made over the previous ten years. Drone use can be compared to cell phones that have the potential to fly or move around. Drone use is a valuable mix of mobile phone hardware and an internet connection, unlike most fintech breakthroughs like big data and payment technologies. Drones are similar to dispersed sensors, which are intelligent and convenient for data collection. They can act as a foundation on which different applications, business models, and programs can be built.
Unmanned systems have been widely implemented for numerous military applications, providing a new dimension in the defense industry. The unmanned systems reduce the workload of military personnel and direct exposure to enemy contact. Therefore, remotely operated systems proved a better alternative than manned systems. Using target drones that are remotely piloted reduces the mission duration and operational costs significantly. The unmanned systems proved to be highly reliable and are used by various government agencies and military forces across the globe as they reduce the risk of damage to the pilot. To simulate the threat of an unmanned system on the battlefield, the demand for target drones has gradually increased over the last couple of decades.
Combat training is one of the leading driving forces for the global target drone market. With the help of active and passive augmentation and infrared augmentation, the sub-scaled target drones can simulate real combat threats on the battlefield. In addition, aerial, ground, and marine target drones are now capable of imitating a variety of threats thanks to extensive experience in researching and developing unmanned vehicles. This has helped in military training of defense personnel, sensors, early warning systems, and countermeasure technology to neutralize the simulated target. The target detection and identification equipment use the data received from the training to calibrate the technology and components to take better actions and improve the system's efficiency. Further, the technology has evolved over the years to simulate real combat scenarios accurately and hence can be used for military training to virtually destroy the targets with the help of target drones, driving the market growth.
Compared to the modified versions of full-scale target drones, the sub-scale target drones have much lower endurances and operational ranges. Most target drones offer endurance of up to one or two hours, which has restricted customers from using the target drones for prolonged missions. Target drones may only partially mimic the performance capabilities of the real danger on the battlefield due to their shorter operational ranges and endurances, which will restrain the market growth.
The improving economic conditions of emerging economies, as well as the rising geopolitical instability, cross-border infiltration, and terrorism, created the demand for air defense systems that can safeguard a nation from aerial threats. Many emerging countries, such as India, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey, want to implement a layered approach to air and missile defense systems to counter aerial threats from hostile nations and terrorist outfits. As global tension and instability rise, many emerging countries seek to develop the most advanced air, naval, and ground defense systems. Consequently, it provides an opportunity for target drone manufacturers to supply unmanned vehicles to these nations for applications such as target and decoy, target acquisition, and combat training.
The global target drone market is bifurcated into target type, mode of operation, platform, payload, application, and end-user.
Based on target type, the global target drone market is bifurcated into full-scale, sub-scaled, and towing.
The sub-scaled segment owns the highest market share and is estimated to rise at a CAGR of 9.94% over the forecast period. Sub-scaled target drones are the most widely used target drones in the industry. The sub-scale target drones are smaller than the actual target drones. They have an augmentation system on board to mimic various threats, such as submarines by underwater target drones, small UAVs that mimic fighter jets, ground drones that simulate the capabilities of tanks, and other ground assets on a radar. Hence, they provide a cost-effective solution, replicating the vehicles at a much smaller yet effective size.
Based on the mode of operation, the global target drone market is divided into remotely operated, optionally piloted, and autonomous operation.
The remotely operated segment accounts for the largest market share and are anticipated to grow at a CAGR of 4.43% over the forecast period. Remotely piloted drones are widely used in all three product types- aerial, ground, and marine platforms- for various applications ranging from combat operations to deep-water expeditions. The remotely piloted vehicles have a designated pilot or operator in a remote location, guiding the vehicle or drone at each step. Most of the target drones currently developed in the market are remotely piloted due to their less sophisticated payload than autonomous drones.
Based on the platform, the global target drone market is divided into aerial, marine, and ground drones.
The aerial drones segment owns the highest market share and is predicted to grow at a CAGR of 8.83% over the forecast period. Various militaries widely use aerial target drones across the globe due to their unique ability to simulate aircraft. These target drones can be of numerous configurations, such as fixed wing, rotor wing, jet-propelled, rocket-propelled, or towed. In addition, aerial target drones have lower endurances and operational ranges than actual aircraft. However, they provide a cost-effective alternative for the applications such as combat training, target and decoy, target acquisition, and target identification. The aerial target drones are classified based on their speed into subsonic, transonic, supersonic, and hypersonic.
Based on payload, the global target drone market is divided into flares, passive and active radar augmentation, infrared augmentation, electronic payloads, and others.
Flares produce intense heat and bright light without an explosion and are often used for illumination, distress signaling, and defensive countermeasures in military applications. There are three main types of flares, namely, projectile pyrotechnics, ground pyrotechnic, and parachute-suspended. The target drones, mostly aerial target drones, use projectile pyrotechnics as a countermeasure against heat-seeking missiles. The flares are usually deployed individually or in salvos by the operator or automatically by early warning devices. The flares help to deceive the infrared missiles and thus burn at thousands of degrees.
Based on application, the global target drone market is bifurcated into combat training, target and decoy, target identification, target acquisition, and others.
The combat training segment owns the highest market share and is predicted to grow at a CAGR of 8.78% over the forecast period. One of the most commonly used applications for target drones is combat training, where unmanned vehicles are used for training military personnel and autonomous target-acquiring systems. Various government agencies have used target vehicles for combat training as they provide a cost-effective alternative to replace piloted aircraft, ground vehicles, and marine boats. With the help of the various payloads on the target drones, the drones can mimic numerous aircraft, tanks, army convoys, ships, and navy boats.
Based on the end-user, the global target drone market is bifurcated into the military, homeland security, and defense companies.
The military segment is the highest contributor to the market and is projected to grow at a CAGR of 7.84% during the forecast period. The military requires sophisticated target drones that can perform complex maneuvers to mimic and simulate an actual fighter jet to calibrate, test, and monitor the armament. The military can be further classified into the air force, navy, and army, and the target drones provide unique solutions to these segments.
Based on region, the global target drone market is bifurcated into North America, Europe, Asia-Pacific, and Rest-of-the-World.
North America is the most significant shareholder in the global target drone market and is expected to grow at a CAGR of 9.06% over the forecast period. North America region comprises the regional markets of the U.S. and Canada. The demand for target vehicles and related systems will increase drastically in the coming years. The companies are already designing and manufacturing the products and solutions to meet market needs. Additionally, the region is one of the most technologically advanced regions in the world. It has several promising companies working on developing products for defense and military training applications that can cater to the various demands of the market. The market for target drones in the region explores multiple payloads such as infrared augmentation, proximity scoring, tow targets, and passive and active radar augmentation. Further, the United States has the highest defense budget and is one of the world's largest consumers of defense goods. Key manufacturers of target drone technology operating in North America include Boeing, AeroTargets International LLC, Griffon Aerospace, and Kratos Defense and Security Inc.
Europe is predicted to grow at a CAGR of 8.49% over the forecast period. Several companies, such as BAE Systems, MBDA, Thales Group, Leonardo S.p.A, Saab A.B., Kongsberg Defence and Aerospace, and Rheinmetall AG, are headquartered in this region, leading to high revenue generation. These companies rely on target drones to test and evaluate their weapons systems. In addition, the military and defense organizations in the region procure the target drones to train and develop their personnel. The U.K., Russia, Germany, and France have many manufacturing, research, and development centers to develop innovative solutions for market needs. Europe has been playing a significant role in the market by developing high-speed target drones, launching platforms, and recovery systems, among others. In addition, the countries in the Europe region have a large number of manufacturing and R&D plants to develop numerous innovative products and services.
Asia-Pacific is expected to grow significantly over the forecast period. China and India are leading the market in the region by bringing innovative technologies in the field of target drone technology for military applications. The companies in the region have diverse product portfolios designed and manufactured by companies and research organizations such as Kadet Defence Systems and DRDO. The COVID-19 pandemic, terrorism, and threats from illegal intruders in the countries have changed the course of product developments in the Asia-Pacific region. In addition, the increase in the defense budget for the research and development of air defenses in the region is one of the driving forces for several companies to expand their regional operations. The governments are also investing in developing target drones that simulate high-speed aircraft and fighter jets to prepare for any imminent threats and counterattacks with better accuracy.
The Rest-of-the-World comprises sub-regions, namely Africa, the Middle East, and Latin America. South Africa, the U.A.E., and Brazil are some of the key countries in this region that have the potential to boost the market in the industry. In order to augment their air defense capabilities, the middle east countries will be expected to work on the upgradation of air defense systems and drive the market in the future. In addition, the key manufacturers present and operating in the Rest-of-the-World include Denel SOC Ltd. These regions have very few companies working on developing the products, and the competition could be much higher. Therefore, they have a higher probability of ensuring complete market control if they succeed in creating sophisticated and robust solutions. Moreover, regions such as Turkey and Israel are in constant conflict and require the most advanced systems to have the upper hand, propelling the market growth.
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