February 16, 2011      

Between 50 and 80 countries already use defense robotic systems, or are in the process of building or acquiring the technology to incorporate into their military programs. These robots may take the form of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), unmanned ground vehicles (UGVs), and even unmanned underwater vehicles (UUVs), but they all have in common the purpose of taking the place of, or supplementing, humans in battlefield situations.

According to a new study by ABI Research, Defense Robots: UAVs, UGVs, UUVs and Task Robots for Military Applications, the global market for military robotics will grow from $5.8 billion in 2010 to more than $8 billion in 2016.

 “While the use of semi-autonomous or autonomous robots can improve military efficiency, accuracy, and operational performance, the overriding ROI for these systems is the ability to reduce the likelihood of injury or death,” says Larry Fisher, research director of NextGen, ABI Research’s emerging technologies research incubator.

The key drivers for the defense robotics market include the strong desire to reduce or prevent military casualties in the field of operations; changes in the tactics of warfare requiring new reconnaissance, combat and task machinery, and tools; the need to reduce military spending; and developments in the fields of materials science, computer programming, and sensing technology to help create more advanced robots.

Among the forces working against the growth of defense robotics are continuing weak economic conditions that negatively impact spending on defense systems; a dearth of active military conflicts for most of the world, which reduces the need for new defense systems; and ethical concerns involving the use of robots for war-fighting operations.

In developed countries, military spending is often “recession-proof,” so weak economic conditions are unlikely to impact defense robot spending greatly, since even the most expensive robot systems are far less expensive than equivalent manned systems.

As a result, says Fisher, “ABI Research projects that the market for military robots will remain healthy throughout the forecast period and beyond, with even greater opportunities opening up by the end of the decade, driven by technological advances and a growing, real-world track record of tangible benefits offered by these systems.” .