BAE heads to sea in deal for underwater vehicle maker

BAE Systems Inc. becomes the latest defense company to buy a company that makes unmanned underwater vehicles in yet another signal of the industry sees growth opportunities ahead.

BAE Systems’ U.S. subsidiary has become the latest defense company to acquire an unmanned underwater vehicle manufacturer in order to position for anticipated growth in that market.

Riptide Autonomous Solutions becomes part of BAE Systems Inc.’s electronic systems sector with many employees from the acquired company slated to join FAST Labs, BAE’s internal advanced research-and-development organization.

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In a release Monday, BAE said the FAST Labs team will work to mature Riptide’s platforms, demonstrate underlying technology solutions that support the vehicles and scale manufacturing capabilities.

“Coupling our extensive expertise in sonar, signal processing, sensor fusion, undersea communications, electronic warfare, and autonomous systems with Riptide’s unique UUV platforms will enable us to affordably address rapidly expanding maritime mission requirements in the global defense, commercial, and research markets,” BAE Electronic Systems President Terry Crimmins said in a release.

With Riptide in tow, BAE joins a group of defense giants that have gained a foothold in the unmanned sea vehicle domain through acquisitions or other types of investments. These moves are all aimed at placing themselves in a domain the Navy is showing increasing interest in and analysts are projecting to grow in future years.

In the lead-up to its pending merger with Harris Corp., L3 Technologies strung together a series of deals not just of the vehicle maker in OceanServer but other companies that make underlying offerings that support the platform.

Boeing purchased surface vehicle maker Liquid Robotics in 2016 and is the prime contractor on the Navy’s “Orca” program to build prototypes of large underwater drones. Also in 2016, General Dynamics acquired Bluefin Robotics to add an unmanned undersea manufacturing capability. Lockheed Martin has made a pair of investments in Ocean Aero within the past year.

It is not just the defense hardware giants that are betting on the future of unmanned sea, however. Leidos is the main integrator for the Sea Hunter autonomous vessel prototype and is eyeing the Navy's procurement of a medium-sized unmanned surface vehicle.

Plymouth, Massachusetts-based Riptide offers three types of vehicles that weigh anywhere between 25 and 120 pounds at lengths of around 2-to-6 feet. The vehicles are also built with an open architecture for hardware and software to give users flexibility depending on mission.

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