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In the global defense sector, the use of remotely controlled and more expendable aerial assets has seen a tremendous increase due to the benefits they pose in being able to remove warfighters from harm and address an ever-widening threat environment. The market for Advanced Air Mobility (AAM) is one of the most appealing and lucrative, with many defense companies wanting to be a part of the AAM ecosystem—witness a poll at a recent IFS webinar where 48% of attendees wanted to be involved in the ecosystem.

Over 100 military organizations are now utilizing a form of AAM. With the market already estimated by GlobalData to be worth $7.9 billion in 2022 and predicted to grow at a Compound Annual Growth Rate of over 4% from 2022 to 2032, there are no signs of this movement stopping!

Potential revenue growth is one of the main attractions for organizations to AAM as shown in IFS’s webinar where 63% of attendees saw potential revenue as the greatest benefit to their organization.

The Game of Drones in the defense sector

AAM use in the defense sector has been up and flying for many years now with Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) becoming prevalent in use, though growing in intricacy and operational capabilities. Over 11,000 Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) are now being used by the U.S. Department of Defense for training, delivering humanitarian aid, and overseas contingency missions showing that they are here to stay and help manage and control the ever-increasing threat involved in the defense sector.

Ground risk reduced by moving autonomously in the air

AAMs vary in size and scale but all play a pivotal operational role, from small surveillance drones capable of going behind enemy lines to large UAVs with increased payload capacity. Soon there will even be UASs capable of deployment alongside manned aircraft, and with developments like the Boeing Loyal Wingman project aircraft, this ground-breaking asset can carry out its own separate mission alongside manned aircrafts.

This gives us interesting insights into the future for AAM in the defense sector, and with a new generation of UAVs just around the corner with Manned-Unmanned Teaming        (MUM-T) technologies designed to help them seamlessly collaborate with manned aircraft, AAMs are in full flight!

Decreasing logistics leading to flexible deployment and helping humanitarian aid

Not only do UASs remove soldiers from danger but they also bring other operational benefits. Being unmanned, there’s more space for larger payload capacity, increased intelligence ability due to additional sensors, or the ability to carry more fuel.

The U.S. Congressional Research Office and Department of Defense see a number of new operational roles for UAS. UAS enable the aircraft to return to base after their mission and have the ability to be able to land in a more rural discrete setting compared to manned aircraft. This means that no matter the size of the UAS, they can make delivery quickly and easily and then return. This has a two-pronged ripple effect of increasing combat mass and removing warfighters from frontline danger, as the technology enables the redeployment of current manpower on to different tasks, all benefits that align with the U.S. Air Force Agile Combat Employment initiative.

UAS also have a role to play in the humanitarian relief mission, with their large payload capacity increasing the amount of aid that can be delivered at once. Of course there’s still a “long road ahead” for this mission requiring government investment as highlighted by Lt. Col. Mark Jacobsen in a recent interview, but the use of drones in humanitarian relief has two main benefits including getting to areas only accessible via air without risking pilots, and the speed in which cargo can be delivered to areas in desperate need.

Cutting edge software and security is key for AAM success

For uncrewed systems to become a staple within modern fighting forces, key considerations must be sustainment, support, and maintenance to ensure optimized asset availability. Looking through recent uncrewed systems’ RFPs and SOWs from military forces we can see the complexity of UAV logistics and sustainment activities.

This complexity demonstrates a wide range of issues and actions that will require up-to-date software including ongoing support, repair and maintenance and training, and obsolescence management.

Furthermore, the security software in these UAS is key throughout their lifecycles due to their susceptibility to cyberattacks. This vulnerability makes being able to identify, report, and resolve security violations an operational imperative.  Systems must be able to guarantee information systems are functional and secure, ensuring information assurance is defined and validated. Threats and risks should be taken care of as soon as they arise at any point in their development.

This market is going to grow and grow – a digital backbone is key

No matter who supports and maintains a UAV in its lifecycle, it will be crucial to have the next generation of software available to manage maintenance throughout their lifecycle. They need an end-to-end digital data thread linking all data sources and stakeholders within a UAVs ecosystem. Only then will they be able to ensure UAVs are ready for action. Data collection, analysis, and execution are a vital part of the operational management process and demand the correct backbone of software support. Accurate data, advanced data analytics, and optimized forecasting must be in place to ensure maintenance tasks are completed at the right place and the right time, planned or unplanned, anywhere in the world.

We at IFS are already deeply involved in supporting the development of UAVs, working directly with next generation defense manufacturers involved in all stages of the UAV life cycle. They select IFS as the software solution of choice to oversee operations and manufacturing projects, recognizing that the IFS software could be used from the ground up within their manufacturing process from protype to manufacturing operations.

Operational readiness is always a work in progress

Sustainment of these military resources is under constant watch now with the growth of AAVs and UAVs in defense, not just due to the increase in complexity, but because of how crucial they are in current and future operations. AAVs and UAVs must maintain constant readiness for deployment, making the digital backbone essential to linking sustainment activities at all stages of their lifecycles to the defense OEMs, forces, and contractors with a common data thread.

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