The Los Angeles-based non-traditional defense player is buying hardware to pair with its autonomy systems. Its latest acquisition will net a full-size unmanned aggressor aircraft and manufacturing know-how.
Anduril announced its acquisition of Blue Force Technologies, maker of the Fury, a full-sized (group 5) unmanned aggressor aircraft intended to provide Red Air (or Blue Air) adversary training to the U.S. Air Force and others, this morning. Henceforth, North Carolina-based Blue Force will be known and branded as Anduril though its specific nomenclature/identity has yet to be determined.
The terms of the deal were not disclosed but its finalization broadens the range of autonomous aerial platforms which Anduril counts among its fleet with a full-size offering to compliment its small VTOL Ghost ISR UAS and air/ground-launched multi-mission Altius midsized drone.
Able to match the performance of high-subsonic piloted aggressor airplanes, the autonomous Fury is pitched on its cost advantages and ability to replicate the electronic signatures of a variety of adversary aircraft. Last year, Fury joined the Air Force Laboratory’s (AFRL) Bandit program to develop an unmanned air vehicle for adversary air training missions.
Blue Force has a $50 million USAF contract to design, build, and test four Fury aircraft to which a Strategic Funding Increase (STRATFI) for up to $15 million was added in mid-2022.
Earlier this year, Blue Force and AFRL completed a successful test of the aircraft’s novel carbon fiber composite propulsion system. Though finished Fury prototypes are not yet done, it has already “flown” as a digital engineering model loaded into a computer onboard the Air Force Test Pilot School’s X-62 Variable In-Flight Stability Test Aircraft (VISTA).
That’s the kind of integration approach Anduril has sought to capitalize on, bringing its proprietary Lattice artificial intelligence operating system to bear on autonomous flight vehicles and its Mission Autonomy platform to unmanned vehicle command and control (C2).
Marrying the hardware above with its AI-enabled fusion/command systems puts Anduril in a good position to compete for both the vehicle and C2 system sides of the mass autonomous combat system (drone) acquisitions the Pentagon is poised to undertake with its Replicator program and other efforts.
Anduril founder, Palmer Luckey, has recently discussed his company’s ambitions for expansion in the press, telling Breaking Defense that he essentially wants to compete with defense primes like Lockheed Martin
The company’s June acquisition of solid rocket motor maker Adranos points to one of the areas Anduril is interested in and to its intent to play in the hardware arena as well as the AI/software field.
“From day one, we’ve been working both hardware and software,” Anduril chief strategy officer, Christian Brose, maintains. Anduril’s company-launching counter UAS and counter intrusion (border security) systems are evidence he says, adding that it has always been important to Anduril “to be able to marry hardware and software so that we’re always in a position to provide solutions to the government rather than just components.”
However, Anduril’s manufacturing capacity is still relatively modest. A company blog-post from last year cites manufacturing facilities across six locations in Southern California, Massachusetts, and Georgia totaling nearly 150,000 sq ft. Not surprisingly, this doesn’t compare with behemoth defense manufacturers like Oshkosh Defense or, more to the point, with the capacity of established UAS builders like Kratos Defense.
While Christian Brose didn’t offer details on the amount of components Anduril builds in-house for its systems versus supplier-built components which it assembles and integrates, he did explain that moving forward quickly with acquisition of companies like Blue Force and Adranos to gain their technology and eventual production capacity is in keeping with Anduril’s expansion philosophy.
“One of the organizing principles of Anduril since we became a company was to move fast. If moving fast means building something ourselves, we’ll do that. If moving fast means acknowledging that there’s a phenomenal team that has done the work to produce a capability that we believe we have something to offer in terms of software … we’re going to look to team up.”
The Blue Force Technologies acquisition fits because it goes beyond Anduril’s acquisition of Fury and securing a place in the full-size drone market (where Fury could potentially serve a variety of mission applications outside of Red Air). It also hinges on the design and manufacturing expertise that Blue Force has built in its decade-plus history.
Blue Force is a Boeing-certified composites and special tooling supplier. Its proprietary Advanced Rapid Prototyping system claims to offer clients a 12 to 30 month acceleration from concept to first flight. Despite its small size (about 100 employees), the company boasts design, engineering, analysis, simulation, and manufacturing expertise that may constitute greater ultimate value than the specific IP associated with Fury.
“One of the things that’s exciting,” Brose agrees, “is not just what Fury is or can be but it’s all of those core enabling capabilities from digital design and engineering to composite manufacturing. That will enable us, together, to build new things in the future whether its new variants of that aircraft or new aircraft and new autonomous systems altogether.”
Brose would not specifically be drawn on what “new things” Anduril might build with Blue Force fully integrated though he did give nods to both the small UAS type products that the Pentagon’s Replicator program is focused on as well as “larger, more complex, more performant robotic systems.”
An obvious question is whether Anduril sees an existing internal Blue Force concept as something it might be able to plug rocket engines from Adranos into. Brose told me to check back in a few weeks to see where Anduril is with that idea but in general Anduril is exploring how to mutually leverage its new acquisitions.
Though the Blue Force name will go away, the company’s president, Scott Bledsoe, will remain in place as will other executives like vice president, Andrew Van Timmeren. The Fury name will remain too, keeping the AFRL Bandit program association in mind.
The former Blue Force facilities (the company operates in a space near Wake Forest University) will likely be expanded as Anduril invests further in its new arm. No dollar figure on what the internal investments would be was provided. The existing workforce should grow as well though Brose affirms that expansion is partly contingent “on the opportunities we can win together,” an obvious allusion to the possibility of Fury moving from Bandit to a program-of-record.
Though it doesn’t advertise its acumen, Anduril has wealth of information on and experience of the adversary-air market Brose asserts including people “who have done this work in industry, people who have done this work in uniform.” That’s a minor bit of news since the company has not formerly been connected to the contract-adversary services business.
Brose affirms that Anduril will seek to integrate its Lattice Mission Autonomy capabilities into Fury, potentially fleshing out its suitability for added roles and missions.
Meanwhile, Anduril continues to flesh out a vertical integration strategy to put it on par with the big Primes. As such, be on the lookout for other stuff it will be buying. Palmer Luckey indicated that plans for bringing land, air, sea, underwater and space systems in-house are in train, the nearest at hand likely being in land capabilities.
Given Luckey’s assertion that Anduril, “is only going to work on things that we think we can do well,” look for more news on the Bandit program and Fury in the near future.