An unmanned system is a remote or self-piloted machine equipped with all the required sensors, data processing centers, automatic control, and communication systems. This system is capable of performing various operations such as military missions, rescue or search missions, civilian surveillance, and law enforcement. Depending on their application, unmanned systems can be classified into the unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), unmanned undersea vehicle (UUV), and unmanned ground vehicle (UGV) categories. The prime objective behind manufacturing them is to derive excellent mechanical properties, durability, and cost effectiveness with respect to manufacturing and maintenance, without any added weight. The composite structure is a natural fit for an unmanned system on account of its ability to impart properties such as strength and stiffness while simultaneously reducing the system’s overall weight.
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A composite, as the name suggests, essentially comprises two or possibly more distinct materials, one out of which is a binding material (matrix) and the other a reinforcement material (fiber).The former could be metallic, polymeric, or ceramic while the fiber could be made from carbon, glass, boron, or aramid. The unmanned composite materials market can be divided on the basis of composite materials used into the following sectors: carbon fiber reinforced plastics (CFRP), glass fiber reinforced plastics (GFRP), boron fiber reinforced plastics (BFRP), and aramid fiber reinforced plastics (AFRP). CFRP is the primary composite used in the construction of unmanned systems, particularly UAV airframes. These composites consist of thermoset resins which are cured when subjected to heating and used along with carbon fiber as a structural component. They are much lighter than GFRP and stronger than metals.
The unmanned composite materials market has been advancing over the years owing to the suitably lightweight characteristics of composites. The increasing demand for lightweight and electric conducive composites is a contributing factor. Disruptive technologies regarding UAV play a pivotal role in the future of aviation, particularly in military applications. The UAV segment holds a significant share in the unmanned system market owing to the increasing usage of target drones, radar decoys, information, surveillance, reconnaissance (ISR) aircraft, and combat aerial vehicles to support military and defense operations. This is expected to fuel the demand for unmanned systems in the near future.
In terms of region, North America, and predominantly the U.S., accounted for a dominant share in the global unmanned composite materials market. Greater emphasis and subsequent expenditure on defense systems by the U.S. government is projected to propel this market. Based on production, Europe leads the market, due to the development of the dual-use system for military and civilian applications driven by countries such as France and Germany. Asia Pacific is estimated to exhibit major growth in the near future, owing to the rapidly increasing adoption of UAV aircrafts and aerostat systems in China, India, South Korea, and Southeast Asia. However, the high costs involved in the manufacturing of unmanned systems may prove to be a hindrance.
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Key players operating in the market include Royal TenCate N.V., Toray Industries, Hexcel Corporations, Cytec Industries, Teijin Limited, Owens Corning Corporation, Northrop Grumman, Gulfstream Aerospace & Aerovironment, and Kratos Defense & Security Solutions, Inc.