How can aerospace and defense organizations respond to present-day uncertainty and keep afloat under conditions of constant change? One of the solutions is the application of emerging technologies that allow A&D companies to dramatically transform the way they work and deliver value to their customers.
According to the Aerospace Industries Association’s Vision for 2050, some of the key technology and innovation trends in aerospace and defense industry will be:
– the rise of automation and artificial intelligence,
– wide application of augmented and virtual reality,
– the rise of Industry 4.0 (e.g., additive manufacturing and digitization).
Here’s a more detailed overview of technology trends that will be driving digital transformation in aerospace and defense in 2024.
Current Trends in Aerospace Industry Remaining in 2024
The aerospace trends listed below aren’t new to the industry; most require much time to be implemented, so they are here to stay for several more years or even decades. Also, as technologies become more and more sophisticated, their application in the industry becomes more diverse. Let’s take a look at the most essential emerging technologies in aerospace.
1. Facilitating Decarbonization
This is one of the most challenging aerospace industry trends. Following the adoption of various initiatives aimed at reducing the negative effect of carbon emissions on climate change (e.g. the European Green Deal), decarbonization is a trend that is here to stay for at least a couple of decades. Despite progress in minimizing Scope 1 and 2 emissions, reducing Scope 3 emissions (produced by the manufactured product, e.g. an aircraft during flight) is more challenging as long as they are more difficult to control. So, aerospace companies will continue their decarbonization journey in 2024. They are expected to leverage latest technologies and focus on technological and operational improvements to address the sustainability challenge. This can be achieved by means of:
- utilization of advanced technologies (e.g., digital twins, smart factory, digital threads) to improve product design and engineering and achieve fuel efficiency,
- selection of sustainable alternative fuels, e.g., sustainable aviation fuels or SAFs,
- new propulsion technologies (electric, hydrogen, hybrid),
- combining smart technologies and green energy (the factory of the future),
- aerospace supply chain reconfiguration and streamlining shipping and distribution.
2. Artificial Intelligence
The use of artificial intelligence is growing – it’s one of the most prominent trends in aerospace. The technology allows A&D organizations to transform their manufacturing processes, improve safety, and optimize customer service and system management. What is more, AI is capable of solving complex problems more quickly than humans, it facilitates effective decision-making, and eliminates human errors.
The aerospace sector leverages artificial intelligence for air traffic management, manufacturing, training pilots, and fuel consumption optimization. An example of an Aerospace AI startup is Beacon AI which employs deep learning algorithms to enhance the safety of private and commercial flights. The pilot works with an AI assistant during the flight, which minimizes human errors and improves overall operational efficiency.
3. 3D Printing
Additive manufacturing (AM) or 3D printing is the process of creating three-dimensional objects from digital 3D or CAD modes, which implies adding materials layer by layer until the required object is ready. Currently, the aerospace and defense industry is among the largest users of additive manufacturing technology: it’s applied to create rocket bodies, build rocket engines, optimize astronaut uniforms, accelerate commercial aircraft production, etc.
The main advantage of additive manufacturing for the aerospace sector is that it improves manufacturing efficiency (thanks to rapid prototype development) and makes it possible to produce more lightweight components for aircraft, spacecraft, and satellites. This is especially relevant in the context of post-pandemic production ramp-ups in the aerospace realm; the technology makes it possible to reduce production costs, optimize fuel consumption, and generally gives aerospace manufacturers a competitive advantage.
4. Advanced Air Mobility
Advanced Air Mobility (or aerial mobility) is a revolutionary approach to urban mobility that involves leveraging flying cars and cargo drones with electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL). This is a relatively new technology in aerospace, which has been actively developing in recent years. Some organizations have already completed the research and development stages and are testing their vehicles.
2024 is going to be disruptive for advanced air mobility. For example, the company Volocopter has already developed three types of aircraft suitable for Urban Air Mobility – the VoloCity air taxi, the VoloRegion long-haul passenger aircraft, and the VoloDrone heavy-lift cargo drone. In 2024, Volocopter is planning to launch commercial flights and provide an all-electric air mobility service for the Olympic Games in Paris.
5. Immersive Technologies
Immersive technologies (virtual and augmented reality) make it possible to see real-world objects overlaid with digital data. They are widely applied in the aerospace sector for the following purposes:
- Modernization of aerospace manufacturing.
The technologies improve manufacturing accuracy, significantly reduce downtime, and improve manufacturing efficiency.
- Aerospace employee training.
For example, pilots can improve their proficiency during AR-assisted training, while would-be pilots learn more effectively on virtual reality simulators.
- Aircraft maintenance and repair.
Applying AR and VR will streamline and significantly improve the process of aircraft inspection and maintenance.
6. Advanced Satellite Technology
The application of satellites is gaining momentum and is expected to grow in 2024 and beyond. This is explained by the reduction of prices for satellite launches and the increased demand for geospatial intelligence and satellite imagery. Also, the extensive use of the Internet of Things and the need for global connectivity promotes the active development of satellite technologies.
According to the research, the most prominent satellite technology trends are going to be the following ones:
- Satellite miniaturization: small satellites are replacing the large ones and related infrastructure; they are positioned in LEO and used for Earth observation and remote sensing;
- Applications of satellite IoT;
- Advanced ground systems that are capable of monitoring satellite constellations without human intervention;
- Spacecraft propulsion that allows satellites to travel deep into space and perform complex maneuvers;
- Leveraging sustainable propulsion systems in satellite production;
- Very High Throughput Satellites (VHTS) that transmit data at the speed of several hundreds of gigabytes or even terabytes per second.
One of the major aerospace and defense industry trends and ongoing challenges is achieving resilience of complex supply chains — it’s a critical component enabling manufacturers’ competitiveness and minimizing their risks and financial losses. This is where blockchain can assist: this mechanism enables transparent information sharing with high-level data security and network resiliency. Therefore, aerospace manufacturers can enhance visibility into supply chains and in such a way mitigate related risks and improve supply chain efficiency.
These were the most common trends in the aerospace industry related to the application of technological advancements; they are going to have the biggest impact on its development next year and in the near future and help companies effectively address aerospace challenges. Let’s now explore the most prominent defense industry trends.
Defense Industry Digital Transformation: Technology Trends
1. Artificial Intelligence
As we’ve noted above, AI is gaining momentum in the aerospace and defense industry, and its potential suggests that areas of its successful application will grow. AI is used in the defense sector for training the military, creating advanced weapons, surveillance purposes, and providing cybersecurity. The technology can replace soldiers during some military operations, which minimizes soldier casualties. Here is an overview of AI applications in more detail:
- AI-powered autonomous weapons and vehicle systems – crewless vehicles and submarines are already employed by the military, but replacing soldiers at the battlefield is still far from widespread implementation;
- Transforming command and control systems by performing real-time data analysis and enabling informed decision-making;
- Predictive maintenance providing the ability to forecast equipment failure;
- Detecting and mitigating cyber threats thanks to analyzing network traffic, detecting vulnerabilities, and timely responding to cyber attacks;
- Training military personnel using AI-driven simulations and virtual environments;
- Intelligence and surveillance – thanks to AI’s ability to process large amounts of data, the military can increase situational awareness;
- Supporting decision-making.
Therefore, artificial intelligence has a major role in transforming military operations and increasing their effectiveness and efficiency.
2. Additive Manufacturing
The defense sector benefits a lot from employing additive manufacturing, leveraging it for the following purposes.
- Replacing obsolete vehicle/military aircraft parts with 3D printed ones.
This is especially relevant for Air Forces that follow the example of Boeing and Airbus and have necessary parts 3D printed instead of the ones manufactured in a traditional way – it’s much faster and more cost-saving to print these necessary parts.
- Building various structures, from bridges to shelters.
The technology can not only enable faster design but also speed up all building processes and make them much less labor-consuming.
- Reducing the weight of defense equipment.
3D-printed parts and components are more lightweight, require less material than the ones traditionally manufactured, and are less costly.
Therefore, additive manufacturing is and will be actively used by the military to quickly create a variety of things they require – from “printing” vehicle parts to building necessary structures. The technology will also contribute to overcoming supply chain issues thanks to deploying on-site 3D printers.
3. Advanced Defense Equipment
With the rapid development of digital technologies, defense equipment becomes more and more sophisticated, which includes the use of directed energy and hypersonic weapons. For example, the US Department of Defense is proceeding with the development of hypersonic missiles. In addition, in response to the demand to achieve net-zero emissions, the defense sector is looking for ways to employ electric propulsion and greener alternatives to traditional fuels to reduce their carbon footprint.
4. Internet of Military Things
The Internet of Military Things is the other game-changer for military operations. Being an interconnected network of devices, technologies, and the internet, it facilitates increased automation, improves decision-making, and secures real-time data-sharing. IoMT implies that sensing and computing devices are worn by soldiers or embedded in equipment for collecting a variety of data. Therefore, tanks, ships, drones, soldiers, and operating bases are connected in a network, which improves situational awareness and facilitates faster and more effective decision-making. Future developments and applications of IoMT are expected to involve the integration of sensors, vehicles, robots, and weapons.
5. Robotics & Autonomous Systems
Robotics and autonomous systems have huge potential for the defense sector, as they make it possible to take military conflicts to the next level mainly thanks to increasing situational awareness and reducing soldiers’ physical and cognitive workload. Being used both on land and sea, they facilitate freedom of maneuver and at the same time reduce risks faced by soldiers. For example, robots and autonomous systems can assist in landmine clearance, explosive ordnance disposal, search rescue operations, or undersea navigation and surveillance.
6. Immersive Technologies
The main advantage of leveraging immersive technologies (augmented and virtual reality) is that the military can apply them for equipment, flight, and weapons training. When used for training soldiers, AR provides safer training environments, terrain diversity and customization, better access to mission rehearsals as well as enhanced spatial awareness. AR can also be used for training fighter pilots, as it simulates threats that a pilot has to fight with. Immersive technologies make soldiers more effective, e.g., wearable glasses can provide them with a variety of data for more effective decision-making.
7. Achieving Cyber Security
Cybersecurity remains one of the biggest concerns and sustained trends for the defense sector, as it’s often vulnerable to cyber-attacks that have become more frequent in recent years. As defense organizations adopt advanced technologies, the need for cybersecurity becomes more and more urgent, as they store and share large amounts of data. However, in addition to protecting from cyber attacks, the military are working on developing offensive cyber warfare including malware, ransomware, and phishing attacks.
The aerospace & defense domain continues its recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic and is making efforts to ensure sustainable development. In 2024, recent technological advancements will continue to shape the aerospace and defense industry landscape. Among the notable developments that will impact aerospace and defense trends next year are artificial intelligence, additive manufacturing, and immersive technologies. Also, aerospace & defense organizations will continue their decarbonization efforts supported by technological developments, improve defense equipment and satellite technologies, as well as take advantage of robotics, increased connectivity, and blockchain.