Lockheed ramps up investment in unmanned undersea vehicle company

Lockheed Martin’s venture capital group ramps up its backing of unmanned sea vehicle maker Ocean Aero to stay ahead of the curve in an emerging domain.

Lockheed Martin’s venture capital group is ramping up its backing of unmanned sea vehicle maker Ocean Aero to follow on from the fund’s initial investment made last year.

Ocean Aero said Wednesday it received a pair of “multimillion-dollar strategic investments” through a Series B funding round from Lockheed Martin Ventures and Houston-based group Energy Innovation Capital. Teledyne Marine is the other major investor behind Ocean Aero dating back to 2014.

The added investments will “allow Ocean Aero to scale its production capabilities and meet the diverse set of demands of a growing customer base using environmentally-powered, autonomous systems,” Lockheed Martin Ventures Executive Director Chris Moran said in a statement.

San Diego-based Ocean Aero builds environmentally-powered, autonomous and unmanned vehicles that operate both at the surface of and under the sea. Lockheed envisions its involvement with Ocean Aero as helping further cultivate maritime offerings focused on intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance.

The unmanned maritime domain is poised for growth. According to the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, the Navy asked for a $1 billion boost in fiscal year 2019 spending to nearly $3.7 billion on unmanned systems.

Lockheed Martin Ventures seeks to identify emerging technology companies in areas such as autonomy and artificial intelligence viewed as disruptive to both industry and the government customer base. The fund also targets early-stage startups in space, satellites, sensors, cybersecurity and additive manufacturing.

In June, Lockheed said it would double the size of the venture fund from $100 million to $200 million with the added boost coming from the corporate tax reduction signed into law late last year. Lockheed also announced at the time an expansion of its relationship with advanced manufacturing software provider nTopology.

Earlier this month, Lockheed Martin Ventures increased its investment in small satellite maker Terran Orbital as a pair of other new investors also entered the fold. Terran Orbital builds its satellites to operate in large “swarm” groups for communications and science missions.

Lockheed is not the only traditional, blue blood defense contractor to use venture capital as a tool for finding disruptive technologies. Boeing launched its HorizonX Ventures fund last year and has also made investments in small satellite and autonomous technologies within the past year.

Founded in 2012, Ocean Aero will use the added investment to further push its flagship wind- and solar-powered Submaran vehicle for use in ocean observation and data collection missions. The company built Submaran to travel for months at a time at depths up to 660 feet below the ocean’s surface.

During a naval exercise last year, Submaran relayed instructions to Lockheed’s Marlin unmanned undersea drone to launch a smaller, similar Lockheed-built Vector Hawk vehicle.

Energy Innovation Capital aims to help Ocean Aero pursue growth in energy and adjacent commercial markets.