AeroVironment Seeks Partnerships to Diversify

AeroVironment’s UAS lineup includes the new Puma LE and the recently acquired all-electric Vapor helicopter. But the company’s internal focus is expanding as the market shifts.  

In October, the Philippines awarded Elbit Systems a $160 million contract to deliver not a specific product, but a solution. The Filipino military defined a certain level of surveillance coverage, and it’s up to Elbit to provide required data using the full spectrum of the Israeli company’s UAS portfolio, ranging from hand-launched micro-drones to the medium-altitude, long-endurance Hermes 450. 

The Southeast Asia contract award offered a wake-up call for the makers of small and medium-size UASs, and companies such as AeroVironment are now searching for ways to adapt to the market interest in turnkey solutions, even if they lack an internal product portfolio as diverse as Elbit’s, said Gerard Robottom, senior director of business development for tactical UAS at AeroVironment. 

The company is now seeking out opportunities for partnerships with other companies, in an effort to create a virtual family of UASs with more diverse capabilities than can be offered by small platforms in the Class 1 category, he said.  

He cited a recent partnership with General Dynamics Land Systems as an example of the new strategy. The deal integrates AeroVironment UASs on General Dynamics’ ground combat vehicles.  

Similarly, AeroVironment announced a partnership with Kratos last year. By pairing AeroVironment’s Switchblade loitering munition with Kratos’ family of target drones, the two companies can offer a novel solution to the U.S. Army, which has a requirement for such air-launched effects as part of the Future Vertical Lift program, Robottom said.  

But the larger goal is to develop an AeroVironment digital platform, he said. The software-enabled platform would be designed to easily integrate AeroVironment’s UASs with those of other companies. If the integration challenges can be overcome, the digital platform might save AeroVironment the cost and risk required to match Elbit’s product family.  

In the meantime, AeroVironment continues to gain traction in Southeast Asia. The company announced on Feb. 10 at the airshow that it would supply Puma 3 AE UASs to an allied country under a foreign military sales (FMS) contract worth $8.58 million. It follows another FMS deal signed in September by a Southeast Asian military customer for $6.4 million.

Steve Trimble

Steve covers military aviation, missiles and space for the Aviation Week Network, based in Washington DC.