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Drone Wars, Hack Blocks Now Part of Growth Story

Steve Johnson
By Steve Johnson CEO, Missouri Partnership

If a study by Deloitte from early this year was on target, 2017 will record a 2% increase in global aerospace and defense revenues and commercial aircraft production is likely to keep rising in the near future.

In Missouri, where Boeing produces its F-15, F/A-18, and EA-18G fighter aircraft, manufacturers and average citizens alike have seen firsthand the economic impact of the burgeoning defense industry. With more than 92,000 Missourians working in the A&D manufacturing sector, the state is one of the driving forces behind the aircraft soaring above it.

And more jobs in advanced manufacturing aren’t the only items on the horizon. From stepped-up aircraft manufacturing to the rise of drones, there are several paradigm-changing trends shaping the future of A&D manufacturing:

1. Air superiority

Under the Trump administration, defense spending is expected to increase. From 2010 to 2015, there was a five-year dip in spending that ended abruptly with a $20 billion increase for the 2016 fiscal year. That spending figure could surge again by an estimated $54 billion in 2017 if Trump’s goals become reality. These figures indicate far-reaching implications for military manufacturing, but the civilian commercial sector is seeing a similar boost.

Boeing estimates that the production rate of its 737 this year will be 47 per month, up from 42 per month in 2016, and the company’s rate is projected to leap to 52 planes per month next year.

2. Drone wars

Not all of the flying dones in the near future will require pilots. The US demand for unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones, is projected to rise 10 percent every year until 2020. At that point, it is estimated the industry will be at $4.4 billion. About half of that drone demand will be attributed to the military.

But the other half of that demand comes from the robust growth in commercial drone demand. This year, an estimated 2.8 million personal drones will be shipped. That’s a 39 percent increase from drones sold in 2016. To support that growth, we are beginning to see specialized two-year and four-year degree programs in unmanned aircraft systems at universities, such as Southeast Missouri State University.

3. Rotors and rockets

Many of the aircraft being manufactured, both piloted and unmanned, will be quick-strike vehicles. The demand for rotorcraft—notably multimission and maritime helicopters—is on the rise. Those two types of helicopters make up nearly half of the rotorcraft market, which is expected to grow 2.59 percent each year between now and 2026.

Along with a growing demand for helicopters, missiles and missile defense systems are trending upward with the global market expanding from $23.7 billion to $36 billion in the next eight years.

4. The future is 3D

For several years now, “printing” has no longer meant just paper and toner to manufacturers. The additive technology boom will continue reverberating. Companies like Rolls-Royce, GKN and BAE Systems already use additive technology to make certain products. However, GE recently took its interest in 3D to the next level.

GE this year acquired majority interests in two additive technology firms. GE then announced the goal of reaching $1 billion in revenue by 2020 for its additive tech business. GE has demonstrated that these advances in 3D printing can have a huge impact on aviation. By using additive technology to make fuel nozzles, GE has already shown it can significantly decrease the weight of aircrafts. We have only seen the tip of the iceberg for printed aircraft parts, as Boeing recently stated that the F/A-18 Super Hornet is utilizing 150 3D-printed parts.

5. Hack blocks

Not only is overall spending on the steel and rivets of aircraft increasing but the FAA is ramping up its efforts to protect aircraft software. It recently developed a framework for testing a plane’s vulnerability to hackers. The agency has invited researchers to participate in its cybersecurity efforts. It will spend $900,000 on the first phase of the multiyear study, which intends to uncover chinks in commercial planes’ cyber security armor and evelop techniques to reforge that armor.

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