Bethesda-based contracting giant Lockheed Martin last week said it will partner with California-based AeroVironment to pursue marketing an AeroVironment-built drone to a broader group of customers.
The deal illustrates defense contractors’ continued focus on unmanned systems, particularly on moving them beyond simply military use.
“It’s basically a joint marketing agreement,” said Paul Lemmo, Lockheed’s senior vice president for corporate strategy and business development. “We’ll work together to identify customers and hopefully convince them this is the right platform for their needs.”
The agreement centers around AeroVironment’s Global Observer drone, a hybrid-electric platform that can operate for about a week at an altitude of 55,000 feet to 65,000 feet, according to Steven Gitlin of AeroVironment.
Gitlin said the aircraft can be used to host equipment that enables, for instance, communication or surveillance. It could be used “to monitor borders, to monitor critical shipping lanes, to monitor weather, to help after natural disasters,” Gitlin said.
Under the partnership, Lemmo said Lockheed will be able to help AeroVironment adapt the aircraft for a whole variety of potential customers, from international governments to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
“The basic capability here is a high loiter time from a high altitude,” Lemmo said.
Lockheed, he said, could also assist with systems engineering as well as providing equipment like sensors or radars.
“This is a good agreement for us,” Lemmo said. “Not only is the platform somewhat unique. . .but the needs for AeroVironment match what we can offer.”
Roman Schweizer, an aerospace and defense policy analyst at Guggenheim Securities, said the deal brings together two very different companies.
“You have one of the biggest and one of the smallest in terms of sheer size,” he said. “But certainly AeroVironment has products in key niches, and I think Global Observer is one of those.”