Ross Wilkers

UNMANNED

BAE nurtures Riptide acquisition for larger opportunities

This week marks the one-year anniversary of BAE Systems Inc.’s acquisition of unmanned underwater vehicle maker Riptide Autonomous Solutions, which envisioned pairing the latter’s UUV platforms with the buyer’s broader mission system technologies.

Before looking ahead, it is worth revisiting why Riptide became part of the BAE U.S. subsidiary’s FAST Labs organization focused on advanced research-and-development but modeled after companies well outside of the defense industry.

“It’s a unified piece of BAE Systems… and the people who make products and services are in the electronic systems business areas,” said Dr. John Hogan, director of BAE Systems Inc.’s sensor processing and exploitation group.

“Because this is a new product line, we’re actually incubating it within FAST Labs, getting all the policies and procedures in for manufacturing. Then we will transition that through the business area when it’s ready for full-rate production,” he said.

Including BAE, substantially all of the U.S.’ largest defense companies have used acquisitions or investments as tools to either outright enter the unmanned sea vehicle market or bolster footings there in hopes of riding a wave of future growth.

A second goal for this group of buyers, including BAE as Hogan pointed out, also has been to grow the capability and inject resources to make UUV platforms in larger quantities amid wide expectations that the Navy will start to buy them in bigger numbers.

What has BAE been up to since Riptide joined last year? They have stood up a new multi-million dollar prototype and production facility in Riptide’s hub of Plymouth, Massachusetts, to increase capacity for vehicle development and personnel focused on that product line.

A few months after the deal closed, BAE and Riptide demonstrated an integrated solution at the Advanced Naval Technology Exercise to show how the platform works with autonomy and radio frequency technology while under water.

Hogan told me they were able to show how surface ships could transmit radio frequency signatures through acoustic communications to another vessel. The goal for each of the following years is to “show a more and more complex applications of these UUVs,” Hogan said.

Goal number three and more specific to BAE was to establish a commercial pricing model for Riptide’s product line that comprises of three units at a 4.875-inch diameter and 25 pounds, 7.5-inch diameter at 65-to-120 pounds and 9-inch diameter at 120-to-240 pounds.

This model is intended to help customers make their choices depending on what payloads they may want in the UUV, Hogan said, given that manufacturing has two sides of prototyping the vehicle and incorporating the augmenting technologies.

With all that behind BAE and Riptide for year one, what is ahead for year two?

“Maturation of the UUVs that we’re working on now, we’ve made a lot of progress there, and it’s all about repeatability and reliability and production,” Hogan said.

About the Author

Ross Wilkers is a senior staff writer for Washington Technology. He can be reached at rwilkers@washingtontechnology.com. Follow him on Twitter: @rosswilkers. Also find and connect with him on LinkedIn.

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